MARTA’s GM to discuss new solar power canopy as Congress debates subsidies

By David Pendered

MARTA GM/CEO Beverly Scott plans to talk up the benefits of solar power at a Wednesday luncheon amidst rising political debate over the future of federal solar energy subsidies.

MARTA benefitted from such a program. Two weeks ago, the transit system unveiled its $10.8 million solar canopy at the Laredo Bus Facility near Decatur.

“I’m so pleased to have the opportunity to speak to the Georgia Solar Energy Association during an extremely exciting time for the industry in this state,” Scott said.

Beverly Scott was named in 2007 as MARTA's GM and CEO.

Beverly Scott, MARTA's GM and CEO.

“Thanks to President Obama’s stimulus funding program and the expertise of our entirely Georgia-based project team, MARTA recently completed the Laredo Bus Facility Solar Canopy Installation which is the largest of its kind in Georgia and the second largest at a United States transit system,” Scott said.

The canopy was paid for by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act’s Transit Investments for Greenhouse Gas and Energy Reduction (TIGGER) Program.

The solar panels were manufactured by Norcross-based Suniva, a company founded in 2007 on the basis of research conducted by John Baumstark at Georgia Tech’s photovoltaic lab. Suniva says it has raised some  $130 million in venture capital from the private sector, including Goldman Sachs and Warburg Pincus.

Federal subsidies for solar power are now the subject of inquiry by the House Energy and Commerce Committee, which is investigating $528 million in federal loan guarantees to Solyndra. The guarantees, part of the 2009 stimulus package, could cost American taxpayers more than $500 million.

Solyndra, a California-based company, collapsed for a number of reasons now under investigation. Solyndra declared bankruptcy in August, laid off 1,100 workers and was raided by F.B.I. agents seeking evidence of fraud, according to an account in the The New York Times.

At a Nov. 17 congressional hearing, Energy Secretary Steven Chu testified that Solyndra failed because that’s what businesses do when “the bottom of the market falls out.” Committee members are questioning “the business judgment of the Energy Department and the White House, and the possibility of political influence,” according to the Times.

MARTA's solar canopy at Laredo Bus Facility

MARTA's solar canopy at Laredo Bus Facility. Credit: New South Construction via MARTA.

At MARTA’s Laredo Bus Facility, Suniva provided 4,888 photovoltaic panels that cover 220 bus parking stalls. The canopies have LED light fixtures that will provide ample lighting, according to MARTA.

The 1.2 megawatt canopy is expected to significantly offset the bus facility’s energy needs while generating the environmental equivalence of planting more than 285 trees a year, according to MARTA.

Spirits were high during the Nov. 18 ribbon-cutting ceremony. MARTA’s press release on the event quotes the leaders of the joint venture that installed the canopy.

From New South Construction Senior Project Manager Fredrik Nilsson: “This was an exciting opportunity for New South and Circle D. It is a success for MARTA, our team and the thousands of green work hours that have gone into this project, but more importantly, it will hopefully help generate the interest in and growth of solar power here in Georgia.”

From Circle D Enterprises President Hebrew Dixon, III: “Today was a great day in our history. This is the second largest project of its type in the country and was completed by a diverse team of administrators and staff and local contractors, vendors and suppliers. Maynard Jackson would have been proud of how this project shows that public-private relationships can produce maximum benefit to the community.”

Scott remains equally bullish on the project. Last week, as she looked ahead to speaking before the Georgia Solar Energy Association’s luncheon, Scott said:

“This extremely successful project, completed on-time and within budget, represents the best of public-private-partnerships at work – government agencies joining forces with homegrown companies to establish financially viable sustainability practices that save taxpayer dollars, create jobs and most importantly preserve our environment for generations to come.”

For information about the luncheon go to www.gasolar.org/

 

David Pendered, Managing Editor, is an Atlanta journalist with more than 30 years experience reporting on the region’s urban affairs, from Atlanta City Hall to the state Capitol. Since 2008, he has written for print and digital publications, and advised on media and governmental affairs. Previously, he spent more than 26 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and won awards for his coverage of schools and urban development. David graduated from North Carolina State University and was a Western Knight Center Fellow. David was born in Pennsylvania, grew up in North Carolina and is married to a fifth-generation Atlantan.

4 replies
  1. Burroughston Broch says:

    Get past the PR fluff and consider this. The primary purpose of this project was to spend Federal grant money and appear trendy; reduction of generated electricity is only the means.

    MARTA paid about 50% more than they should have. Large photovoltaic (PV) installations like this typically cost $6/watt of capacity but MARTA paid $9.

    An installation of this size should produce about 2,630,000kWH per year. Assuming that MARTA pays Georgia Power $0.10/kWH for purchased electricity, this installation will reduce MARTA’s power bill by $263,000/year. This is less than a 2.5% return on the $10.8million investment and it’s a pretty poor return, even in today’s economy. It’s equivalent to you and I spending $100 to save $2.50/year.

    Again, it’s really about spending Federal grant money and appearing trendy..Report

    Reply
  2. Tim says:

    1. This is grant money, so there was no out of pocket for MARTA, so any cost reductions go to their bottom line.
    2. The entire cost of the project was 10.8 million. The solar panels were added to a project that was already going to be built, so MARTA did not overpay for the solar panels.
    3. There are other savings, not just reductiuon in electricty. This means the buses do not have to run the air conditioning as much, which saves on diesel fuel and results in lower emmissions. If diesel consumption is reduced by 1,000 gallons a month, this results in a $48,000 in yearly savings.
    4. The cost of electricity increases by 4% a year, so the cost savings begin at 263,000 and go up to $300,000 in year 25.
    5. Running the bus engines less = less maintenance, which saves money.
    6. This project increase the property values of the station and results an increase in tax revenue for the city and state.
    7. My rough calculations show a profit on this investment of over $5,000,000.
    Not bad for a “pork barrel” project
     Report

    Reply
    • Burroughston Broch says:

      Creative accounting and delusion at best.
      1. The taxpayers and ratepayers have to pay for it anyway.
      2. MARTA paid $9million per MW which is 50% premium over the free market rate.
      3. I’ll take you at your word.
      4. You forgot that the system’s capacity reduces with age. The warranty is based on 20% reduction in capacity over a 20 year lifespan – let’s say 1%/year. Taking that into consideration, over 25 years you have received a $8.4million benefit for a $10.8million investment. Your original investment is now worthless. So, over 25 years you have recovered $0.78 for every $1.00 that you invested in 2011. It’s a lousy return. Got your 401k set up like that?
      5. Prove it.
      6. Looking at MARTA’s annual report, they pay no property taxes so how do the City and State increase their tax income.
      7. It’s a lousy investment – see 4. above. It never pays for itself.Report

      Reply

Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

What are your thoughts?

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.