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San Diego cities apply for $260 million stimulus for solar projects

23 August 2009 No Comment

By Helen Kaiao Chang

See original story on SDNN

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

A group of San Diego organizations has come together to apply for $260 million in federal stimulus funds for 160 solar projects that promise more jobs and alternative energy to the region.

CleanTech San Diego, a non-profit regional organization, is leading the group, which consists of nine cities, schools and water districts. Together, they submitted 300 applications to the Clean Renewable Energy Bonds (CREB), which has $800 million provided by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.

The projects are part of San Diego’s overall push to become more energy efficient, as well as an industry leader for alternative energy industries.

“This will have benefits not only to the communities that will have new clean sources of power, but it will also help put San Diegans back to work and boost the economy,” said Lisa Bicker, chief executive officer of CleanTech San Diego.

Combined, the projects would create 26 megawatts of solar energy – enough to power 25,000 homes over the 30-year lifespan of most solar installations. It is unclear how many jobs the projects could create, but they would range from installers and technicians to engineers and manufacturers, said Bicker.

The Internal Revenue Service determines the applicant winners, based on the bond criteria, and administers the projects with low-interest tax credits. The IRS will be awarding grants in the next several months.

Variety of projects

The projects were for the cities of Chula Vista, Lemon Grove, Fallbrook and Santee; the Valley Center Water District; and other agencies. The types of projects submitted were mostly for solar rooftop and parking shade structures, as well as others, at:

– Civic centers

– City halls

– Fire stations

– Libraries

– Schools

– Recreation centers

– Animal shelters.

Although the applicants were in the government sectors, the projects would be built by the private sector, said Bicker.

Smaller projects

CleanTech kicked off the applications in April with a meeting to determine how San Diego could best tap Recovery Act funds. The coalition – comprising several non-profits, for-profits and university groups — decided to focus on CREB, which favors smaller projects under $1 million. These can be approved quickly and suit several of San Diego’s smaller cities, said Bicker.

Later meetings in May and June educated city leaders about clean energy bonds and financial models. The group also brought on several companies with financial, legal and engineering expertise, who consulted with the applicants on a pro bono basis.

Culture of collaboration

The projects reflect the culture of collaboration that serves as a competitive edge for San Diego, compared to other regions, said Bicker. She noted that the partners had donated hundreds of hours of consulting work to make sure the business plan applications met legal, financial and engineering requirements.

Lisa Bicker leads CleanTech San Diego.

For example, she noted, law firm Latham and Watkins provided several hundred hours of consultation for competitive strategy; UC San Diego had four students create a software program simplifying the CREBS application; financial advisors Stone and Youngberg offered a template for creating a financial plan.

Other partners included: The San Diego Foundation, Center for Sustainable Energy, PE Consulting, Southern Contracting, and Munibond Solar.

Cora Long, a management analyst for the City of Lemon Grove, was one person grateful for the assistance. In an email to CleanTech that was provided to SDNN, Long praised the one financial planner who stayed up late to help her finish an application.

“She baby-stepped me through the financial aspects of CREBs without a single complaint or sigh… I really feel she has and is going beyond the call of duty.”

“San Diego has a long tradition of understanding the value of collaboration,” said Bicker. The partners “saw this as an opportunity to extend our leadership position not only in solar energy, but in clean energy in general.”

The experience also creates a framework for going after future projects, said Bicker. “We are very well positioned to identify the next funding opportunities and leverage the same framework. ”

Follow Helen on Twitter @HelenChang.

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