As Palo Alto continues to explore building new garages to address downtown's gaping parking shortage, officials are also looking at existing parking structures to fulfill a completely different goal: electricity.
The city, hoping to attract companies that would build solar panels on garages and then sell the locally generated energy to the city's Utilities Department, began testing the waters in late March by sending out a request for proposals to 133 companies that might participate in the recently created program, known as Palo Alto CLEAN (Clean Local Energy Accessible Now). The program allows solar-panel companies to sell energy to the city at a fixed price over a 20-year rate.
Modeled after similar "feed-in tariff" programs in Europe, Palo Alto CLEAN aims to help the city expand its stock of renewable energy. The council last year agreed to make the city's entire electric portfolio carbon neutral, with most of the energy coming from hydroelectric, wind, landfill and solar sources.
In February, the City Council modified the program to raise the capacity of electricity the city will accept from energy providers. The Utilities Department is offering to buy up to 3 megawatts of power from local solar systems at a price of 16.5 cents per kilowatt hour.
As part of the garage proposal, staff from the Community Services, Planning and Community Environment, Public Works, Utilities and Administrative Services departments have been reviewing city-owned sites to look for possible locations for new solar installations, according to a report from Public Works. Criteria included solar access, property leases, future development plans and whether the buildings are historical or not. Parking garages emerged as the best bet.
Under the staff plan, solar-power providers would install and maintain the systems at their own expense and sell electricity to the city over a 20-year agreement. The five parking structures that staff deemed suitable for solar facilities are: the two garages on Cambridge Avenue; the Cowper/Webster garage and the parking structures at 528 High St. and 445 Bryant St.
The local nonprofit CLEAN Coalition helped the city draft a request for proposal to solicit bids. Any proposal will be subject to council approval.