In keeping with the city of Gresham's efforts to position itself as a leader in the solar industry, city councilors have approved plans to build a solar array at City Hall.

Using $470,000 in federal stimulus grants and a $124,000 grant from Energy Trust of Oregon, the array will have the potential to deliver about 93,000 kWh (kilo watt hour) of electricity a year - electricity that will fuel Gresham City Hall at 1333 N.W. Eastman Parkway.

That's about 15 percent of City Hall's yearly electricity consumption, said Project Manager Randy Shannon.

Proposed project designs call for two 'solar trees' - or 10-foot columns with two arms on which solar photovoltaic panels are mounted - to be built on the plaza south of City Hall. The trees are designed to be high profile and very visible, Shannon said.

But most of the panels will be erected over the south row of parking spaces on the west side of City Hall, creating a canopy or carport over them.

The panels in the parking lot and plaza will be connected to inverters that will feed the power into City Hall's electrical system.

Other elements include the ability to monitor how much power is being generated in real time, as well as an interactive display for educational purposes, Shannon said.

Not only will the installation generate renewable power, it will 'demonstrate to the community and prospective green industrial investors the city's commitment to sustainability and renewable energy,' reads the council agenda item through which councilors on Tuesday, Sept. 20, authorized the city manager to approve hiring REC Solar Inc. to design and build the project.

The array is expected to last about 20 years, over which time it will generate $190,000 to $200,000 worth of electricity, Shannon said.

REC Solar Inc. also installed the solar panels at Gresham's wastewater treatment center on Northeast Sandy Boulevard in 2009. That project, the largest ground-mounted solar array in the state, covers 1.5 acres and generates more than four times the energy - 419 kWh of electricity a year, or 7 percent to 8 percent of the plant's annual electricity usage - that the City Hall project will provide.

Construction on the City Hall project will begin early next year.

(Editor's note: According to Gresham city officials, 'the cost savings cited by city staff in this article was in error. This figure was incorrectly calculated based on today's electricity costs and a total system lifespan of only 20 years. In actuality, the cost of electricity goes up over time, as the average increase has been 8 percent per year for the past 10 years. While the actual solar panels may have an estimated lifespan of 20 years, the project will be installing the infrastructure to support solar at the City Hall campus for many more years. Panels will change and likely drop in price in the future, and after 20 years they may be replaced or overlaid with thin-film technology. Using an escalating electricity cost based on the past 10 years, the electricity cost savings to Gresham would be approximately $624,000 after 30 years of solar power at City Hall, exceeding the federally-funded installation cost by $30,000.')

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