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Paso Robles goes solar for savings

Jeremy Levine/http://bit.ly/2pDLIHJ

Over the past few years, Paso Robles has started to build up its municipal solar energy infrastructure, after the 2013 adoption of the city's Climate Action Plan. In doing so, city administrators took advantage of a by-product of Proposition 39, passed by California voters in 2012. 

While the ballot initiative's main thrust was to close a tax loophole for out-of-state corporations, for five years it directed some of that corporate tax revenue to clean energy projects, such as the installation of solar panels on parking structures at public schools.

“We were able to piggyback on the school district program across the state to do some solar projects,” Dick McKinley, Paso Robles Director of Public Works, said.

A year and half later, parking structure solar panels are being installed at the city’s Centennial and Sherwood Parks. A 25-acre solar farm will soon be built at the Paso Robles airport; last week the Paso Robles Planning Commission approved the necessary permits for the four-megawatt facility.

The company that is financing, installing and operating the solar infrastructure is called Onyx Renewable Partners. Paso Robles has inked a 20-year deal with the company, promising to buy the electricity it produces.

“They make a little money because it cost them a little bit less to make the power than they sell it to us for, and we save a ton of money by buying it from them instead of buying it through PG&E,” McKinley said. “We expect that we’ll save something like $9.5 million over 20 years.”

The city pays no out of pocket costs for the project. McKinley said while residential customers won’t see a reduction in their electricity bills, they will benefit from what the city builds or funds with it’s extra millions in savings.