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St. Pete talks the talk with renewable energy, but City Council wants Kriseman to walk the walk and put solar panels on new fire station

ST. PETERSBURG — Mayor Rick Kriseman has reveled in the embrace of environmentalists since declaring his city's commitment to rely completely on clean, renewable energy nearly two years ago.

But, as Thursday's City Council meeting showed, change is hard.

Council members were discussing a plan for a new $3.4 million fire station in Fossil Park in the city's northeast side, when council member Karl Nurse asked if the design included solar panels.

No, said Raul Quintana, the city's architect.

"Since we're committed to 100 percent clean energy, is there a reason we didn't put solar panels on the roof?" Nurse asked.

The city had budgeted $2.8 million for the station, Quintana said, but it ended up being more expensive, in part because it contained three bays for fire trucks. The budget just didn't allow for solar panels, he added.

"You're building a new building," Nurse responded. "There's no cheaper time to build solar."

Quintana agreed to look at the feasibility of adding solar panels, but City Administrator Gary Cornwell broke in.

"We don't have a funding source for it," he said

In an interview later Thursday, Kriseman said he's hoping to find the money to put solar panels on the station's roof — either as the building is being built or as a retrofit. He doesn't know how much that might cost.

The fact that the station's design doesn't include solar panels can be attributed to the timing of the project, the mayor said. The decision to replace the station was made at the same time Kriseman signed his executive order on sustainability in August 2015.

City employees are still adapting to make renewable energy a top priority.

"Everything we're trying to do is very different than what was historically done when it comes to sustainability," Kriseman said. "When you're not used to doing it, it's a cultural shift. We're trying to get everybody to look through that lens on every project."

Recently, Kriseman successfully persuaded council members to back a belated addition of solar panels to the new police headquarters at a cost of $2.3 million. The administration has also proposed a $1 million solar array on the approach to the new pier.

Kriseman said he hopes council members will authorize the solar panels for the pier approach, which is part of the $14 million in tax-increment financing dollars the mayor asked county commissioners to move from transportation to pier improvements.

At Thursday's meeting, the council unanimously approved the construction contract with the caveat that the administration examine whether solar panels can be added.

If all goes according to plan, the station should be open in a year.

Firefighters will welcome the change. The current station was built in 1960 and isn't in great shape. Two years ago, former council member Bill "Coach" Dudley surprised his colleagues and the city staff by describing a visit to the station in which roaches had run across his feet.

Although the budget that year was essentially done, administration officials scrambled to find money to build the new station. They found it.

The station, next to Fossil Park, might not get solar panels, but it does have plenty of modern amenities. The 9,168-square-foot structure will house a fire engine, rescue truck and brush truck, and will include individual sleeping quarters for seven firefighters and a captain.

The new fire station is modeled on the Lake Maggiore station, an LEED-certified station, built in 2011. That station is considered a model of energy efficiency, Quintana said.

The new station will require the relocation of two lighted tennis courts and a park maintenance building, according to city documents.

As for Kriseman's plan to transform the role of solar in the Sunshine City?

"It's still a work in progress," he said.

Contact Charlie Frago at cfrago@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8459. Follow @CharlieFrago.

St. Pete talks the talk with renewable energy, but City Council wants Kriseman to walk the walk and put solar panels on new fire station 05/04/17 [Last modified: Thursday, May 4, 2017 10:24pm]
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