When Healdsburg, California, brought a floating solar array online a few years ago, the city’s utility knew there would be a wide array of benefits flowing from the project. But one of the benefits that Terry Crowley, Healdsburg’s Utility Director, said he underestimated is the high level of community support that has emerged for the project.
Crowley on Sept. 19 gave a tour of the floating solar project for attendees of the Northwest Public Power Association’s Northwest Innovations in Communications Conference, which was held in Santa Rosa, Calif.
In January 2021, the City of Healdsburg completed the 4.78-megawatt photovoltaic solar array for the recycled-water ponds at its Wastewater Treatment Facility. Healdsburg staff conceived the project with the support of the Northern California Power Agency.
Crowley knew that the tangibility of the project would resonate with the community, “but I really underestimated it,” he said during the tour.
The community has “really gotten behind it because it’s something that’s tangible from their electric utility. It’s something that’s local that they can see and really get behind and support,” Crowley said.
“That’s one of the things that’s kind of interesting about it is how do you put a price on that? How do you put a price on that customer satisfaction, the value of that?”
“If you’re considering local projects or a replication of something like this, it’s something to think about – how you have that local tangibility,” he said.
The contract for the project was awarded to Dissigno in June 2020 and construction began in October 2020. Through collaboration with Dissigno, White Pine, and Collins Electric, the city moved the project from contract award to interconnection in the same year. The project was contracted as a power purchase agreement. The solar developer paid for the entire project and owns the array.
Geese Flock to the Solar Panels
Meanwhile, one of the ongoing challenges that the utility has faced is the fact that geese have been drawn to the panels.
“This has been one of the learning processes that we have,” Crowley said during the tour.
He said that while the geese have done their nesting on berms surrounding the floating solar panels, “what we didn’t expect is they really love just hanging out on the panels. It creates this basically protected island for them.”
One of the things that the utility is trying to figure out is whether it is cost effective “to go through and clean the panels on a frequent basis or just take that loss in production,” Crowley said.
He noted that last year, the project developer sent a crew to clean the panels, which took about a week and a half to complete. Crowley pointed out that due to the power purchase agreement, “whatever they don’t deliver to us, we don’t pay for.”
The developer has considered ways in which to address the challenge including building an island near the panels that might be more attractive for the geese.
“We’re still in that kind of learning process to figure out…how do we manage the wildlife,” Crowley said.
The solar project includes about 11,600 solar panels that can generate 6.5 million kilowatt hours a year, enough to supply about 8 percent of Healdsburg’s annual energy needs.
The project also reduces harmful algae blooms and improves the quality of the water to recycled-water users, which include local vineyards and farms.
The project also helps Healdsburg’s publicly owned utility to meet the state of California’s environmental sustainability requirements and climate goals.