Diane Bailey explains clean energy infrastructure approved for Belle Haven neighborhood of Menlo Park

by Diane Bailey on January 13, 2022

Great news from Menlo Park Tuesday night — the City Council approved a $5 million investment for a solar-battery micro-grid, solar thermal and heat pump pool heating, and EV charging at the new Community Center in Belle Haven (which must be all-electric per code). The micro-grid replaces dirty diesel generators that were initially part of the project.

The City will recoup that investment over future energy bill savings and will save an additional $5 million in avoided energy bills over the life of the project.

This is a fantastic model for smart city clean energy projects that directly benefit residents with clean air — avoiding carcinogenic and lung clogging diesel pollution.

The clean energy infrastructure project directly relates to a couple of the City of Menlo Park’s 2030 Climate Action Plan strategies, including No. 3 (EV charging infrastructure) and No. 5 (eliminating fossil fuels from city operations).

The clean energy microgrid for this project will generate renewable energy through solar panels to be stored in batteries. The batteries can power the Community Center in the evening, avoiding utility power during the highest rate period to save the city money on power bills.

The solar-battery micro-grid is also independent as it can disconnect from the central grid (e.g., PG&E). This “islanding” capability allows micro-grids to supply power to buildings when a storm or other outage occurs on the power grid. A micro-grid controller is also used that intelligently manages energy so that maximum savings and reliability can be achieved (that evening power supply discussed above).

The micro-grid replaces the need for diesel or other fossil fuel generators commonly used to supply power during grid outages. Diesel and gas generators are notorious sources of pollution, and so avoiding their use in Belle Haven is an important strategy to improve air quality and community health.

Generators also require ongoing fuel deliveries and expenses to operate and perform monthly testing. The clean solar-battery system of the planned micro-grid does not require additional fuel and the associated expense (power from the sun is free), and contributes to a net savings due to continued use to offset utility energy bills. .

The public EV charging spaces are a very important amenity for Belle Haven, where many renters may not have the ability to charge at home. With generous rebates and incentives now available for electric vehicles, they have  become much cheaper to own and operate than conventional gas vehicles. Providing public charging is an important way to make cheaper and healthier (no tailpipe pollution) electric cars accessible to everyone.

For anyone unsure about EVs and concern that they may be too expensive, here’s an excellent new resource from PCE on EVs. The site shows substantial  savings for swapping a gas car for an EV ($4000 rebates if you buy a used EV right now, and up to $9500 in cash back from the Clean Cars for All program(for qualifying low-income people). That is almost $10,000 in cash back for making the switch to an EV! Also EV owners save about $1,000 in fuel and maintenance costs each year relative to gas cars.

This clean energy infrastructure project a win-win for the community of Belle Haven as well as all of Menlo Park.

Author Diane Bailey is Executive Director of Menlo Spark. Photo of Diane by Irene Searles (c)2015

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