Yosemite National Park To Install Large Solar Energy Complex At El Portal

The largest solar energy complex in the National Park System will be built just outside Yosemite National Park and, when operational, will essentially double the amount of electricity generated via renewable energy for the National Park Service's Pacific West Region.

The grid-connected 539-kilowatt photovoltaic generation system that will be built near El Portal, California, beginning in June is being paid for with $4.4 million the Park Service received under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

“This project exemplifies how Yosemite, the Pacific West region, the National Park Service, the Department of the Interior and the President are trying to lead the way in making our facilities climate-friendly,” Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar said in a prepared statement.

“We are very excited about this project and grateful that the Recovery Act funding became available for us to begin the installation this summer,” added Yosemite Superintendent Don Neubacher. “This energy-saving photovoltaic project reflects Yosemite National Park’s commitment to sustainable and renewable energy sources.”

The rooftop and shade-structure mounted solar panels, to be installed beginning this summer at the El Portal Maintenance Complex, are expected to generate approximately 800,000 kilowatt hours of electricity annually. This will result in almost a 12 percent savings on electricity purchased off the grid, the Park Service said.

El Portal, the park’s administrative center, was chosen as the location for the solar panels based on the high amount of direct sunlight the site receives.

The solar panels will be installed on the roofs of existing buildings and on newly constructed shade structures in which government vehicles will be parked under. At 13 cents per kilowatt hour, the park is projecting a savings of up to $104,000 per year.

Comments

Am I correct in thinking NPS may be the leader in government use of solar power? Does anyone have any numbers on that?

At a savings of $104,000 per year in electricity costs, the 4.4 million will be recouped in roughly 40 years. I know I wouldn't spend money for solar if I wasn't going to break even for 40 years. Only the government...

Kath--
I disagree with you; if I were a very large operation with many facilities far from urban areas, I _would_ start spending money for solar now in small, pilot-scale installations.

Your 40 years to recoup the investment misses a lot, but is probably in the right ballpark. The biggest omission is rising (real) electrical costs over the next decades, which will greatly shorten the payoff period. Foregone interest on that $4.4M would extend the payoff period, but interest rates are low and I expect electricity prices to rise much faster than inflation over the coming years. The PV panels are likely to need to be replaced at least once over the next 40 years, but the mounting hardware and wiring won't need to be replaced, and the PV panels will be much cheaper in 15 years.

But, note that NPS isn't rolling out PV solar everywhere, but only in a couple of locations. [Some remote Alaskan parks are starting to use PV because it is cost-effective now given transmission costs.] The lessons learned from trying to install PV on rooftops and shade structures at Yosemite are likely to be valuable over the next decade or more as PV prices come down and electricity prices go up. NPS will have data from Yosemite about the actual costs & efficiencies of decentralized PV, and thus will be able to make better economic decisions about when to roll out PV elsewhere. It will also have several years empirical experience on installing & maintaining PV, again, with substantial benefit in operational efficiency once PV is worth deploying widely. A good optimal investment strategy won't wait until results from other applications suggest PV will pay for itself for NPS, it will invest a small amount now in order to have the information to make better decisions and realize greater efficiency when the big investments are made in the future (or, to determine that the big investments would be a mistake and not spend the money). Therefore, the way I see it, the $4.4M investment now has a substantial return on investment over the next 20 years or so, and is a pretty smart thing to do. And no, I have nothing to do with PV or Yosemite NP.

Lee--

That would certainly depend on whether you measure leader in terms of absolute amounts or as a fraction of energy use. DOD has quite a bit of solar.

We aren't talking about foregone interest on the $4.4 million. This is borrowed money so you have to calculate how much in interest the government is paying out on top of the 4.4, which makes the expenditure even more. And yes electricity rates are likely to rise, but here in L. A. they are being raised to pay for the increased costs of going 'green'.

Conserving electricity doesn't cost anything. You don't have to go into more debt to do it. Yosemite should evaluate where it uses electricity and then evaluate how they can use less.

Just read the article on how Big Bend is saving electricity and the night sky. They are saving 98% on their electricity bill by using lower wattage bulbs and other fixes. Great! The photos show the reduction in light pollution so that visitors can see that the 'stars at night, burn big and bright, deep in the heart of Texas'. That just popped into my head, ha.

Am I crazy or what.. at a savings of $104,000 each year in electrical expenses, the investment of 4.4 million will be recovered in roughly 42 years. Last time i checked a solar panel last for 20 years and it starts to loose some of its efficiency after a few years. Hummm ok what is wrong with this picture?

Exactly, coolmom. And since this is borrowed money, it will take even longer for the 'investment' to be recouped. Yosemite would have been wiser to look over their electric bill, see where cuts to electrical use could be made immediately, change all bulbs using energy efficient bulbs, go to Home Depot and buy those devices that turn off lights when there is no movement in a room, all sorts of much cheaper, faster ways to save electricity.

But the government likes its toys and it's press release eye-catching news headlines and most people ooh and aah and say "isn't it nice that Yosemite's going green" without ever really evaluating whether this solar project makes sense or not.

After I posted the above comment, it struck me how naive I was being. I kept pondering how someone in Yosemite management couldn't have run the numbers in two minutes like coolmom and I did and easily figure out that this was never going to save anything in electricity costs. No sensible homeowner (particularly one drowning in debt like our country) would spend money on something that would never recoup its costs. So that wasn't the real reason this solar equipment was put in. Kurt, interested in winning a Pulitzer? Look into who the solar company is or who the contractor is and see how much in campaign donations they made and to whom. How was this project approved? Was it an earmark or did someone pressure Yosemite management into doing this? Or did Yosemite have some extra money lying around they had to spend in order to justify asking for more in next year's budget so they threw this money away on something that sounds very politically correct like solar? Either way it's just another example of how the government wastes our money and the next time the NPS cries that they aren't being sufficiently funded, I won't be feeling sorry for them.

Working on it, Kath. Project was funded through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

Ah, yes. The stimulus. A giant waste of money we don't have. Check into whether these solar panels were manufactured in the U. S or China. Since there will be no energy cost savings here, if the government wanted to employ Americans, the money could have been better spent on a summer youth employment program building trails. The Central Valley of California has a high unemployment rate. But then young people don't make huge campaign contributions.

Solar power makes sense in remote locations where supplying grid power might not be practical, and the National Parks has plenty of them. Also, there's more to this equation than just money, like reduced depedendence on coal-fueled grids.

the reflective glow of solar panels, especially near any water source like river or lake, will appear more like water than the real thing to birds, aquatic insects, and many other species. dragon, may, and damselflies will lay their eggs on solar panels which quickly fry the eggs. this is not acceptable no matter what the economic "savings". read page 21 of the latest issue of "on earth" (nrdc) quote: "if you overlay the dark surfaces with a thin white grid, the insects will pass over the panels". also, migrating birds are confused and distracted by the reflections of solar panels. they are not what they seem. conservation may be a better solution for the time being.