Solar Shades Transit Agency From Energy Costs

Forget shade trees and rusty aluminum carports. The bus fleet of the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority (VTA), in California, is going to be cooling its engines in style—in the shade of some serious solar canopies. VTA has installed solar parking canopy systems supporting 5,070 SunPower 425-watt high-efficiency solar panels at three of its bus maintenance sites. The systems, which have a combined capacity of 2.1 megawatt (MW), are expected to save VTA $2.7 million in electricity costs over the next 20 years.

Two of the solar installations are located at the VTA’s San Jose facilities, including a 548-kilowatt (kW) system at its Chaboya Division and a 969-kW system at its Cerone Division. The third installation is a 637-kW system at the VTA North Division facility in Mountain View.

image via Santa Clara Valley Transit Authority

The project was made possible by a partnership with SunPower and Wells Fargo, which financed the systems. SunPower will maintain and operate the PV systems over the terms of VTA’s 20-year power purchase agreement. The power produced will offset the electricity demand of VTA’s three bus maintenance facilities, and more than 2,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions each year.

VTA is responsible for bus, light rail and para-transit operations in municipalities including Los Altos, Mountain View, Palo Alto, San Jose and Santa Clara, among others. The solar parking canopy project fits into the broader goals of VTA’s sustainability program, which outlines the organization’s commitment to the conservation of natural resources, reduction of greenhouse gases, prevention of pollution and the use of renewable energy and materials.

Lauren Craig is a writer and consultant living in Seattle, WA. She holds an M.S. in International Development from Tulane University, and is co-founder of Sustainable Systems Integrators, LLC., an employee-owned solar energy design and installation firm in New Orleans, LA. She is also certified in PV design and installation by the North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners (NABCEP).


  • Reply February 13, 2012


    Reporteru00a0Lauren Craig appears to be just another liberal, u00a0trying to shove this panels down the publics throat. u00a0Notice she did not write a word on COST of these panels.nnAlso, u00a0the deal is based on 20 year agreement with Sun Power. u00a0This is kinda silly because there is a good chance Sun Power will be bankrupt within the next 5 years.

    • Reply February 14, 2012


      Thanks for the comment. As the story notes (and as you allude to) this installation was done through a power purchase agreement under which Wells Fargo owns the system. Therefore, the upfront costs to the SCVTA were nil. The agency says the energy itself will actually be less expensive than what it otherwise could have anticipated paying under standard PG&E rates. Difficult to verify that, but reading through the supporting docs for the program, it seems quite plausible. Of course, part of what makes this economically viable for everyone involved are federal and state tax breaks, so there is some cost there to taxpayers. As for SunPower, it may or may not be in business in five years, but if it did go under Wells Fargo (assuming it retained ownership) would find another provider to service the installation.n(Pete Danko, EarthTechling)

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