County's largest solar-power project soaks up the sun

The largest solar project in the county is now silently at work atop the West Marine boating supply store on 17th Avenue.

SANTA CRUZ - The largest solar project in the county is now silently at work atop the West Marine boating supply store on 17th Avenue.

But the savings it will provide are too good to keep quiet, according to Roger DeNault of Solar Technologies in Santa Cruz.

The company designed and installed the 57.6-kilowatt system, comprising 480 photovoltaic panels. The system, which was turned on Monday afternoon, now provides enough energy annually to power 20 homes.

The system will eliminate an estimated 4.4 million pounds of carbon dioxide pollution and save more than 400 million cubic feet of natural gas over 30 years, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

It costs about $400,000 to install a 50-kilowatt system. DeNault says, such systems pay for themselves, not only in cost savings but also as less-polluting alternatives to other traditional power generation methods. A number of state and federal rebates and tax credits are available to businesses that invest in solar energy systems, resulting in paybacks in as few as 5 years and internal rates of returns as high as 20%.

Randy Repass, the chairman of the board for West Marine Products observed, "West Marine is committed to using proven technology that has a reasonable payback time to reduce our impact on the environment. Our system designed and installed by Solar Technologies and using Kyocera panels and Sunny Boy inverters provided the environmental and financial payback we were looking for."

DeNault added, "West Marine ... can now produce its own electric power with a clean, nonpolluting renewable energy source. We talk about the inevitability of death and taxes, but I think electrical rates will continue to go up years from now, too."

The long summer days should provide enough sunlight to cover most of the 7,500-square-foot store's needs. Year round, the panels will provide two-thirds of the energy it takes to power the business.

In the coming months, Solar Technologies will install a similar system atop the Live Oak Business Park, two blocks from West Marine.

Park owner Barry Swenson Builder of Santa Cruz hopes the addition of the solar system will distinguish the building from others on the market and help attract environmentally conscious tenants at a time when there is a glut of commercial real estate in the county. Several buildings in the park, just off Highway 1, have stood empty since the project was completed several years ago.

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