The city of Healdsburg hosted a virtual celebration with city council members on Feb. 24 to commemorate the completion of the city’s floating solar array project, which will provide 8% of the city’s electric needs.
With 11,600 solar panels, the project also has the distinction of being the largest floating solar array in the United States.
Mayor Evelyn Mitchell, Vice Mayor Ozzy Jimenez, Councilmember David Hagele and Councilmember Ariel Kelley along with Healdsburg Utility Director Terry Crowley and project developer White Pine Renewables were on the project site at the city’s Westside Road wastewater treatment facility to discuss the project.
“This is a proud moment for all of us. I think now and in the future this project is going to show what we can do as a community when we put our minds to it,” Mitchell said.
The solar array has been 10 months in the making and now that it’s complete not only will it provide renewable electricity, but it will also help reduce harmful algae blooms in the wastewater pond, and it will improve the quality of the recycled water that’s used in vineyards and farms.
The project will also help Healdsburg’s own publicly owned electric utility meet the State of California’s environmental sustainability requirements and climate goals.
“In 2025, four years from now, our electric power must be at least 50% renewable. In 2030, that requirement increases to 60%. This project will help Healdsburg reach those milestones ahead of that deadline and help address the climate change challenge,” Hagele said.
Each solar panel can produce 410 watts and the project in its entirety will produce 6.5 million kilo-watt hours annually. The project has the capability to incorporate a future utility-scale battery storage system.
“Of those panels, the sun hits those and releases electrons and the electrons are collected by wires that are collected in a series of networks,” Crowley explained.
The electricity is then connected to the city’s grid through high voltage lines and sent out to the community.
The project is made possible through a power purchase agreement with solar developer White Pine Renewables. It is built and financed in exchange for the city of Healdsburg paying a fixed energy price over the term of contract.
“Through the power purchase agreement, the city doesn’t have to lay out a large amount of capital dollars to put this project together. Instead we worked through a power purchase agreement and negotiated a price that allows the city to just pay for the energy that comes out of here,” Crowley said.
Crowley said compared to wholesale energy prices, this project is estimated to save $1 million over the 25-year term contract.
Having the developer fund the project allows the tax credits to lower the cost the city pays for the energy. If the city had funded the project it would have to front the cash as a non-taxed entity, and it wouldn’t have been able to take advantage of the tax incentives.
Healdsburg staff conceived the project with the support of the Northern California Power Agency. The contract was awarded to Dissigno in June 2020 and construction began in October 2020.
“Discussions of the concept date as far back as 2010 but detailed planning started in 2017. As part of a larger statewide project through the Northern California Power Agency (NCPA), the City was able to revive the concept and turn it into the project,” Crowley told The Tribune in December.
Through collaboration with Dissigno, White Pine and Collins Electric the city was able to move the project forward from contract award to interconnection in the same year.