Solar America City/Philadelphia: Solarizing Philly with large PV installations

Courtesy of the Mayor's Office of Sustainability In 2008, Philadelphia became a Solar America City, setting a goal of 2.3 MW of solar generation capacity, enough to provide electricity to more than 350 households, by 2011. By 2021, that amount will increase to 57.7 megawatts. Just this past June, at the PV America Conference and the 34th PV Specialists Conference, the City was formally awarded its Solar America City designation. But even before it became an official Solar America City, Philadelphia had already built a strong solar awareness as a Million Solar Roofs partnership.

“There was a lot of work done prior to Philadelphia’s Solar America City designation through the efforts of the Energy Coordination Agency (ECA) and The Reinvestment Fund (TRF),” said Kristin Sullivan, Project Director in the Philadelphia’s Mayor’s Office of Sustainability.

“Much was accomplished, but since the focus of the Million Solar Roofs Initiative (MSRI) was on residential installations–it was just one small solar roof at a time.” 

Liz Robinson, Energy Coordinating Agency and former MSRI partner, has been helping with Sullivan’s transition.

“I think it bodes well for the City of Philadelphia that it internalized the initiative,” said Robinson. “Kristin has taken the ball and really run with it.”

Now entering its second year, the Solar America City of Philadelphia is working toward developing more commercial and large scale solar within the City and surrounding areas.

The City of Philadelphia and the Philadelphia Industrial Development Corporation (PIDC), in partnership with Conergy and Exelon Power Generation, are developing a 1.5 megawatt solar generation facility on city-owned lands at The Naval Yard, the country’s first naval shipyard. Though the Navy officially closed the Yard in 1995, the facility is now home to various businesses and products and services firms. This facility, when complete, will represent the largest urban solar project in the nation, generating enough energy to power 200 homes.

“I’m very excited about the possibilities of solar on city-owned land,” said Sullivan.

In addition to the solar generation facility at The Naval Yard, the Philadelphia Water Department (PWD), using Technical Assistance funds from the Solar America Showcases award, plans to install new solar electric installations to power water treatment facilities, providing multiple megawatts of new power generating capacity at 2-3 of the Water Department’s Raw Water Treament Facilities and Waste Watertreatment facilities. These projects would decrease the amount of electricity that PWD would need to purchase from PECO.

“PWD is one of our stellar agencies that is already working on a comprehensive master energy plan,” said Sullivan. “We’ve set aside $850K of EECBG funds for the PWD site. There’s a lot of work yet to be done, but we’re using funds from the Solar America Showcases project that PWD was awarded to develop the language for the RFP PPA and legal guidance on long-term contracts. We have also applied for multiple grant opportunities, both state and federal, for the mid scale projects. Municipalities can not capture the full economic potential from the incentives for solar that are out there because we don’t have a tax appetite. Without the ability to monetize the ITC or the MACRS, municipalities need to find financial assistance to close that gap.”

According to Liz Robinson, PWD has become a major solar client because of its extensive underground water treatment facilities.

“PWD has lots of acreage that can’t support above-ground facilities, but it can easily support fields of solar PV. And since the state has mandated a four percent peak load reduction by 2013, this just reinforces the interest in solar.”

Pennsylvania, like all states, is receiving its share of American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) money for renewable energy projects. Pennsylvania’s State Energy Office will receive more than USD $23.5M in Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grant (EECBG) funds.

The EECBG program, funded for the first time by ARRA, provides formula grants to states, cities, counties, territories and federally-recognized tribes nationwide to implement energy efficiency projects and install renewable energy technologies on municipal buildings, projects like Philadelphia’s PWD and The Naval Yard.

In addition to these large installations, the City is working on a Solar Developer’s Guide to Philadelphia.

“The goal is to clarify and maybe actually streamline the permitting process,” said Sullivan. “We’re in the process of detailing the work for our subconsultants and then we’ll work with the City’s Licenses and Inspections (L&I) department. We think there is value in just making the process known to developers, but we can add more value if we can streamline the process to save time for the developer, but for our overworked L&I personnel as well.”

Elizabeth Doris, Senior Energy Analyst/State & Local Team Lead/NREL, and Tiger Team contact for the City of Philadelphia, thinks this is possible.

“A happy potential outcome of the development of the Guidebook is better understanding and communication between city agencies involved in permitting and approving solar facilities, possibly leading to coordinated streamlining efforts for solar installations in Philadelphia.”

Sullivan anticipates a spring 2010 release of the Solar Developer’s Guide.

While Philadelphia’s Solar America City program is making progress, significant challenges remain.

 According to Doris, the City and the Tiger Team have developed a feasibility study for potential city sites, and are in the process of identifying financing mechanisms and loan and grant funding to bridge the gap between the capital requirements and the availability of capital from the city.

“I wish that there was a way to lend assistance in a productive way to non-profits and municipalities that want to install mid-size solar on their land or on a building,” said Sullivan. “Economies of scale are crucial and developers are more interested in Power Purchase Agreements (PPAs) for projects that are at least. Add to PPA’s financing mechanisms like the Investment Tax Credit (ITC) and bonus depreciation, and the private sector has a distinct financial advantage in the competition for state grant programs. CREBs and QECBs are attempts to level the playing field.”

Clean renewable energy bonds (CREBs), and Qualified Energy Conservation Bonds (QECBs) used primarily in the public sector, finance renewable energy projects with a 0% interest rate. The borrower pays back only the principal of the bond, and the bondholder receives federal tax credits in lieu of the traditional bond interest. 

Sullivan is encouraged by all of the support for the Solar America City goals within the different departments in the City of Philadelphia.

“Even in the roughest of economic times and the talk of a Plan C, the various departments recognized the issues of energy price increases and want to look into ways to mitigate them over the longer term.”

For more information about Philadelphia’s Solar America City activities, contact Kristin Sullivan.

In 2008, Philadelphia became a Solar America City, setting a goal of 2.3 MW of solar generation capacity, enough to provide electricity to more than 350 households, by 2011. By 2021, that amount will increase to 57.7 megawatts. Just this past June, at the PV America Conference and the 34th PV Specialists Conference, the City was formally awarded its Solar America City designation. But even before it became an official Solar America City, Philadelphia had already built a strong solar awareness as a Million Solar Roofs partnership.

“There was a lot of work done prior to Philadelphia’s Solar America City designation through the efforts of the Energy Coordination Agency (ECA) and the The Reinvestment Fund (TRF),” said Kristin Sullivan, Project Director in the Philadelphia’s Mayor’s Office of Sustainability.

“Much was accomplished, but one of the shortcomings with the Million Solar Roofs Initiative (MSRI) was the kilowatt capacity restrictions for residential installations–it was just one small solar roof at a time.”

Liz Robinson, Energy Coordinating Agency and former MSRI partner, has been helping with Sullivan’s transition.

“I think it bodes well for the City of Philadelphia that it internalized the initiative,” said Robinson. “Kristin has taken the ball and really ran with it.”

Now entering it second year, the Solar America City of Philadelphia is working toward developing more commercial and large scale solar within the City and surrounding areas.

The City of Philadelphia and the Philadelphia Industrial Development Corporation (PIDC), in partnership with Conergy and Exelon Power Generation, are developing a 1.5 megawatt solar generation facility on city-owned lands at The Naval Yard, the country’s first naval shipyard. Though the Navy officially closed the Yard in 1995, this facility, when complete, will represent the largest urban solar project in the nation, generating enough energy to power 200 homes.

“I’m very excited about the possibilities of solar on city-owned land,” said Sullivan.”

In addition to the solar generation facility at The Naval Yard, the Philadelphia Water Department (PWD), using funds from the Solar America Showcases project, plans to install new solar electric installations to power drinking water treatment facilities, providing up to 7.6 megawatts of new power generating capacity on the roofs of one to three sites: the Baxter, the Queen Lane, and the Belmont drinking water treatment facilities. These projects would decrease the amount of electricity that PWD would need to purchase from PECO.

“PWD is one of our stellar agencies that is already working on a comprehensive master energy plan,” said Sullivan. “We’ve set aside $850k of EECBG funds for the PWD site. There’s a lot of work yet to be done, but we’re using funds from the Solar America Showcases project that PWD was awarded to develop the langage for the RFP PPA and legal guidance on long-term contracts.”

According to Liz Robinson, PWD has become a major solar client because of its extensive underground water treatment facilities. “PWD has lots of acreage that can’t support above-ground facilities, but it can easily support fields of solar PV. And since the state has mandated a four percent peak load reduction by 2013, this just reinforces the interest in solar.”

Pennsylvania, like all states, is receiving its share of American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) money for renewable energy projects. Pennsylvania’s State Energy Office will receive more than USD $23.5M in Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grant (EECBG) funds.

The EECBG program, funded for the first time by ARRA, provides formula grants to states, cities, counties, territories and federally-recognized tribes nationwide to implement energy efficiency projects and install renewable energy technologies on municipal buildings, projects like Philadelphia’s PWD and The Naval Yard.

In addition to these large installations, the City is working on a Solar Developer’s Guide to Philadelphia.

“The goal is to ease and streamline the permitting process,” said Sullivan. “We’re in the process of detailing the work for our subconsultants and then we’ll work with the City’s Licenses and Inspections (L&I) department.

“On one hand, things seem promising,” said Sullivan. “On the other hand, L&I is very shorthanded. Still, I’m hopeful that we’ll be able to get good input for a strong, streamlined permitting processs.”

Elizabeth Doris, Senior Energy Analyst/State & Local Team Lead/NREL, and Tiger Team contact for the City of Philadelphia, agrees.

“A happy potential outcome of the development of the Guidebook is better understanding and communication between city agencies involved in permitting and approving solar facilities, possibly leading to coordinated streamlining efforts for solar installations in Philadelphia.”

Sullivan anticipates a spring 2010 release of the Solar Developer’s Guide.

While Philadelphia’s Solar America City program is making progress, significant challenges remain.

According to Doris, the City and the Tiger Team have developed a feasibility study for potential city sites, and are in the process of identifying financing mechanisms and loan and grant funding to bridge the gap between the capital requirements and the availability of capital from the city.

“I wish that there was a way to lend assistance in a productive way to non-profits and municipalities that want to install mid-size solar on their land or on a building,” said Sullivan. “Economies of scale are crucial and developers are more interested in Power Purchase Agreements (PPAs) for projects that are at least 1MW or more. Add to PPA’s financing mechanisms like the Investment Tax Credit (ITC) and bonus depreciation, and the private sector has a distinct financial advantage in the competition for state grant programs. CREBs and QECBs are attempts to level the playing field.”

Clean renewable energy bonds (CREBs), and Qualified Energy Conservation Bonds (QECBs) used primarily in the public sector, finance renewable energy projects with a 0% interest rate. The borrower pays back only the principal of the bond, and the bondholder receives federal tax credits in lieu of the traditional bond interest.

Sullivan is surprised by all of the support for the Solar America City goals within the different departments in the City of Philadelphia.

“Even in the roughest of economic times and the talk of a Plan C, the various departments recognized the issues of energy price increases and want to look into ways to mitigate them over the longer term.”

For more information about Philadelphia’s Solar America City activities, contact Kristin Sullivan.

 

For the next 72 hours, you can download any IREC report without having to fill out this form again!

This feature requires the use of cookies in your browser. Check your browser settings if you experience any problems.