By Alexandra Applegate
After months of calls from community residents and from the Glendale City Council to build out local solar energy capacities, eight city sites will soon be receiving solar panels.
The city at its March 7 meeting unanimously approved kicking off a three-phased plan to install solar photovoltaic (PV) systems on properties owned by the city. The first eight sites are expected to generate around 4.4 megawatts of energy for an estimated $14.65 million. The city says that’s the equivalent of powering the houses of 656 families.
This is part of the city’s commitment to transition completely to clean energy by 2035, 10 years sooner than the goal set by the state. Generating local, clean power has become increasingly important as the city tries to shift away from fossil fuels while still avoiding blackouts from strains on the electrical grid.
“We’ve made a commitment to reducing some of the strain on our grid by other decisions that we’ve made that I think are for the benefit of the environment and the planet,” said Mayor Ardy Kassakhian. “If we’re going to ask our residents to do their part, we need to do our part as well.”
The council has urged city staff to be aggressive in pursuing solar, even as they’ve passed other projects to ensure the lights stay on in Glendale. These projects, like the Scholl Biogas Project or building three new natural gas-powered engines at the Grayson Power Plant, were considered controversial by environmental activists.
But Glendale Water and Power electric engineering analyst Bryan Salazar said initiating these eight “solar-ready” sites is the best way to start a push for solar.
“It’s my opinion that this is the most aggressive approach with the information we have now to break ground, get shovels in the ground and start developing now while concurrently working on the next phase,” Salazar said during the City Council meeting.
The first solar-primed sites were chosen after Glendale Water & Power coordinated with the city’s Public Works Department and its Parks & Recreation Department to ensure placing solar PV systems aligned with other scheduled construction. The Glendale Central Library is one of the first identified sites but is also currently undergoing a roof replacement.
“We see that as a solar-ready project as soon as that roof is done to put solar on it,” Salazar said. “The last thing we want to do is to invest in solar on a rooftop to find that in a couple of years, we need to do a roof replacement.”
The Glendale Sports Complex parking lot, Montrose parking lot 3, the Utility Operations parking lot and the Dunsmore Park parking lot will receive carport solar PV systems. The Brand Landfill is ready for a ground-mount solar project. The GWP Perkins Building will receive rooftop
solar, and Fire Station 21 is prepped for a rooftop solar system and a carport canopy solar PV system.
“Considering the resources we have, we believe these eight large sites are manageable,” said City Manager Roubik Golanian. “This will be a good steppingstone to learning how these systems work and pinning down a better, more accurate cost estimate for phases two and three. But rest assured that we will aggressively approach this program as best we can as reasonably as we can in a timely manner.”
City staff will start the next two phases concurrently with the first, ready to select the next set of buildings or parking lots to receive solar PV systems in the next month.
“We have a lot of parking lots that we consider low-hanging fruit so we’re going to look at that,” Salazar said. “And we’re going to explore some other options as far as rooftops.”
These will be chosen from the 65 city-owned sites the contractor Black & Veatch identified were viable for solar installations in August 2022.
The second phase will also include working with the L.A. County Sanitation District and the city’s Public Works Department to flesh out covering the Scholl Canyon Landfill with solar panels, as requested by the City Council.
The landfill is expected to reach its fill level in 2025. At that time, Scholl will need to be covered, and the city wants to ensure the cover will be conducive to solar PV systems. The city says covering the landfill could alone produce up to 5 MW of energy.
“The portion of Scholl Canyon that we’re looking at that would be ideal for solar is a good distance away from our current [energy transmission] infrastructure that we have,” Salazar said. “So infrastructure would need to be planned for, engineered and installed to connect to our sub-transmission grid.”
The third phase will involve selecting additional sites for solar as well as taking advantage of the direct pay credits offered through the Inflation Reduction Act, which was passed in 2022. The city expects to get back 30% of the money spent on solar panels as part of the federal government’s push toward clean energy. This will bring the final cost of the first phase down to $10.25 million, though the city likely won’t see those credits until the next fiscal year.
“We fully anticipate whatever credits we get will be invested back into our solar program,” Salazar said.
Though he voted to approve the motion, Councilman Ara Najarian raised doubts about the city seeing this project completed. He cited a previous failed bid that would’ve installed a virtual power plant and provided 25 MW of energy as well as a request for proposals to identify clean energy in the city that procured disappointing results.
“This is our last change, I think, in the next year or two or three to make any real progress. And we’ve had two big swings and misses,” Najarian said. “I appreciate your optimism, but I don’t think it’s going to happen. Wait until the bids come, wait until the problems come.”
Najarian also raised doubts that competitors in the solar industry would deliver the technology that would meet Glendale’s needs within its budget. With a fast-rising demand for solar products amid limited supply, prices have skyrocketed, rising from around $1.55 per watt in 2022 to $3.30 per watt in 2023.
“There’s a lack of progress in the industry to make this project happen. They’re money-grubbing, they’re not cutting anybody any deals and they’re sticking it to the customers,” Najarian said. “We’re a big, fat pig ready to be stuck, in my opinion. If it happens, it’s going to be the miracle of miracles.”
With council approval, city staff will now develop a request for proposals from contractors, who will be able to bid on one or as many of the eight projects as they see fit. They hope to award contracts in July, see construction begin as soon as September and have fully functioning solar PV systems on these properties by the first half of 2024.
First published in the March 11 print issue of the Glendale News-Press.