Solar Panel

The Oro Valley Community and Recreation Center will be replacing key elements of its utility equipment, updating some of its amenities and soon be the site of a series of solar photovoltaic panels, are part of a $2.7 million dollar overhaul put into action by unanimous approval of the town council during the May 19 session.

The decision to incorporate solar panels at the community center isn’t a first for Oro Valley; the town completed a solar project at the town hall campus in 2010 and has committed to environmentally conscience development and integrating energy efficiency projects whenever possible.

Working with Trane Energy Services and Controls, the Town’s current vendor for HVAC systems and maintenance, the project will 

include replacement of aged HVAC units, evaporative coolers, lighting retrofits within the buildings and throughout the 31 lighted tennis courts at both tennis locations, hot water heater replacements, pool heater and pump replacements, an irrigation pumping system replacement on the Conquistador golf course and the solar panels over a reconfigured parking space layout.

After conducting a preliminary assessment of the community center and its utility bills, Trane offered two options for the town council to consider: one with all of the improvements sans the solar project totaling an estimated $1.6 million, though council opted for the more encompassing option to include solar.

According to Stacey Lemos, CPA, Oro Valley’s finance director, the project would be “budget neutral,” with no need for upfront funds. To pay for the cost, the town would look at various options: low-interest bond financing, tax-exempt leases and utility rebates from Tucson Electric Power and other utility providers. The annual energy savings would be used to pay off the financing. Town documents state that the overhaul will create an estimated annual energy and operations/maintenance savings of $211,000 in the first year, growing to over $342,000 by the sixteenth year.

With council approval, town staff is able to begin the next steps of the process. Trane will now perform a detailed investment grade energy audit, which town manager Greg Caton said could take up to a month to complete. After staff has looked into financing options for this project, a more complete project assessment will be prepared by Trane for the town council in the summer.

Caton and Lemos both indicated that while information will be available to the council this summer, construction won’t actually begin until early fall. While it may be some time before work begins, Lemos said that if the council wanted to replace something specific, like the irrigation pump at the conquistador course, the matter could be funded through contingency reserves from either community center or general fund – if authorized by council. Caton said that a recent significant malfunction of the irrigation pump has brought that specific item to the forefront of conversation.

Once the project is complete, there will be a section in the contract for measurement and verification of savings, extending after improvements by which energy savings are measured annually and compared to base level projections. After a yearly evaluation and if all other conditions remain stable and the town doesn’t meet energy savings, Trane will write a check for the difference – Though staff doesn’t expect that to happen.

Though the project is expected to take 16 years to pay back, town documents indicated that the useful life of the solar panel system is approximately 30 years.

With the passage of the community center energy efficiency project, a new fund within the coming year’s budget will be created for the funding sources and expenditures. According to the town report, the preliminary assessment report from Trane estimates a cost of $2.7 million, though staff recommended increasing the budget cap by $3 million to allow for any project contingencies or adjustments in final project pricing when the investment grade audit is completed, which was approved by council on a separate item.

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