Parking Goes ‘Green’ at Long Beach City College

The top level of the new, state-of-the-art parking structure at Long Beach City College’s Liberal Arts campus is topped with a 2,100-panel solar photovoltaic system that not only fully powers the facility, but also provides partial energy to surrounding buildings on campus. Photo courtesy of Sullivan Solar Power.

3:01pm | Parking at Long Beach City College’s Liberal Arts campus just got a whole lot easier — and greener, too. 

That’s because construction was recently completed on the campus’ brand new, 900-plus space parking structure, which spans five levels and more than 295,000 square feet just off the southwest corner of Carson Street and Clark Avenue. 

“If there ever was a good-looking parking structure, we have one right here,” said LBCC President Eloy Oakley during a grand opening event for the structure held last Tuesday. “This structure will not only help our students, but also all of our neighbors,” who have been dealing with the college’s overflow parking on surrounding residential streets for years.

This is no ordinary parking structure, however. Atop the fifth level is a massive installation of 2,100 state-of-the-art solar panels that generate enough power to fully supply electricity to the entire structure, as well as partially power adjacent buildings on the campus. Officials said the panels should offset approximately 9 percent of the multiple buildings’ electricity needs.

The solar installation is the second largest in the city, trailing behind only the Long Beach Convention Center, and is the largest solar installation citywide that qualifies under the stipulations of the California Solar Initiative, a cash-back program issuing rebates to electricity consumers who install qualifying solar panels at their home or business and cut back their energy usage by a certain percentage.

Oakley added that the project makes the LBCC campus the greenest of the state’s 112 community college campuses.

While the overall structure and panel installation cost roughly $27 million — all of which was funded by Measure E facilities bond funds approved in the amount of $440 million by voters in 2008 officials said that the panel component is expected to fully pay for itself over the next 12 to 15 years depending on the rate at which energy rates increase over the next decade.

At the current electricity rate, the school is set to save $110,000 annually on its electricity bill, a Southern California Edison official said during last week’s event. He described the amount of power generated by the solar panels as the equivalent of the amount of energy needed to power two grocery stores.

But that’s not the only source of savings. Because the project meets the state Solar Initiative’s standards, the school is receiving a $621,603 rebate from the initiative that will be paid to the school by Southern California Edison in monthly installments of $10,000 over the next five years, according to a fact sheet.

The SCE representative added that an advanced lighting system using high-efficiency GE ballasts in linear fluorescent T8 fixtures will render a noticeable decrease in the school’s hefty electricity bill. He said the system achieves a “staggering 76.6 percent more energy savings than as stipulated by the 2008 Building Energy Efficiency Standards (Title 24), yielding the school another rebate of $25,050 under SCE’s Savings By Design energy efficiency incentive program. That rebate is set to be paid over the next three to five weeks, according to a fact sheet.

The American-made Sanyo 215W A Series solar panels were manufactured locally in the neighboring city of Carson. They are among the most efficient modules available on the market today and have a roughly 40-year lifespan, said Daniel Sullivan of Sullivan Solar Power, the subcontractor that installed the solar photovoltaic system.

Sullivan Solar Power worked hand in hand with the skilled design-build team at McCarthy Construction to take what would have been a typical parking garage and modified it into a distributed-generation power plant that will not only eliminate the electric bill of this building, but will also power adjacent facilities., Sullivan said.

The solar PV system can generate 406.585 kilowatts, which Sullivan said he estimates will amount to roughly 59,000 kilowatt hours per month, or 700,000 kWh annually. This, he said, will divert an estimated 18 million pounds of carbon dioxide from entering the Earth’s atmosphere, though a fact sheet lists the amount as closer to 18.4 million pounds.

The cost savings the school will reap by decreasing its demand on the power grid by those same amounts will continue to grow as utility rates climb higher and higher due to the planet’s declining supply of fossil fuels, Sullivan added.

The solar PV system, which was built and installed by highly skilled electricians from the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, was completed both on-time and on-budget, and over the course of the project, not a single worker’s compensation or other insurance claim was filed. This yielded awards for all involved from the Statewide Educational Wrap-up Program, a joint powers authority that provides insurance to schools and community college districts.

Besides being green, the solar-powered parking structure will be used as an educational tool, giving students pursuing degrees and certificates in the field of “green” jobs the hands-on experience they need right in their own backyard. 

Scott Fraser, a professor who heads the school’s Electronics/Electricity Department, said the state-of-the-art parking structure will be worked into the school’s solar program curriculum.

“It’s not just enough to save energy. … We have to design and develop it into our curriculum, and this (the parking structure) gives us the opportunity to do that,” Fraser said.

Among the amenities the parking structure offers are fully solar-powered security lights and elevators, as well as a car-counting system that tracks the number of cars entering or exiting each level and displaying the number of spots available on each floor at any given moment via digital signage at the structure’s entrance.

At the conclusion of the March 29 event celebrating the structure’s completion, President Oakley and Mayor Bob Foster piled into a small, red “eco-car,” fired up the engine and slowly steered their way, with Oakley behind the wheel, into the structure, climbing all five levels before becoming the first to ever park in the facility. 

An aerial view of the new, 100-percent solar-powered parking structure at Long Beach City College’s Liberal Arts Campus. Much of the top level of the structure is covered by a solar photovoltaic system that is estimated to generate about 59,000 kilowatts hours per month. Photo courtesy of Sullivan Solar Power.

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