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The staff of the Tampa Bay Times

St. Petersburg City Council signs off on solar panels for new police headquarters



ST. PETERSBURG — A lower than expected bid and better return on investment persuaded St. Petersburg City Council members on Thursday to support a solar panel project for the new police headquarters.

City staff presented a bid from Miller Electric for $2.3 million, about $400,000 less than previous estimates. The company is also offering a 25-year-warranty on the panels.

The panels would be paid off with reduced energy costs after 27 years, about six years faster than previous estimates.

Earlier this month, council members balked at the cost and length of time it would for take the panels to pay back the city's investment costs through reduced energy costs.

The new figures put City Council member Charlie Gerdes at ease. He noted that the “break-even” point was close to the end of the warranty.

And he said the project served a larger purpose. Last year, the council voted to make the Sunshine City the first in Florida to eventually operate 100 percent on renewable energy.

“We passed a resolution to be a 100 percent clean energy city. We either did that because we meant it or we did it because it would sound good. My vote was because I intended to go in that direction,” Gerdes said.

Council member Darden Rice said viewing the project through the lens of return on investment ignored that the continuing savings on energy costs that would kick in immediately.

But Council member Ed Montanari said borrowing $2.3 million for 15 years only to see a financial benefit after 28 years didn’t make fiscal sense.

“From an environmental point of view, it’s an easy decision," Montanari said. "From a financial point of view it doesn’t make any sense.”

The city can save additional money by planning to include solar capability in the initial designs of city buildings, said Council member Karl Nurse. City Administrator Gary Cornwell said Mayor Rick Kriseman’s administration plans to follow that policy in future buildling projects.

The solar panels were a late addition to the $79 million police headquarters, scheduled to be fully operational in the spring of 2019.

The council's budget, finance and taxation committee's approval allows the project to be included in the coming fiscal year's budget to be presented in June.

[Last modified: Thursday, April 27, 2017 1:48pm]


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