CITY OF WACO’S FIRST SOLAR SYSTEM
On March 23rd, some 300 Wacoans celebrated the grand opening of the 25th Street Fire Station. They applauded the preserved historic architecture, improved department headquarters, community meeting space, and anchor for neighborhood enhancement. But the most crucial feature of this beautiful new complex went unrecognized—the first installation of rooftop solar by the City of Waco!
The panels weren’t noticed because the top surface of the largely flat, lofty roofs was difficult to see. But careful examination of the “Fire Station 6” building, at the back of the complex, revealed the typical edges of the black solar panels, and City staff confirmed that 84 photovoltaic panels had indeed been installed. We sincerely congratulate the City for this rooftop solar system. It will provide all of the benefits of distributed solar, and it stands as the first concrete evidence of the City’s commitment to combating the climate crisis.
How did this solar system materialize? In March 2018, Waco Friends of the Climate (FOC) presented a 10-minute slide show to the City Council on the severe dangers of the climate crisis, and called for robust City action to combat this existential threat. This was supported by about 1,500 petition signatures requesting that the City pledge net-zero greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 2050. After two years of relentless presentations by the FOC on climate crisis impacts and solutions, the City Council announced in 2020 that the 25th Street Station WOULD incorporate rooftop solar. Although some City staff and Councilpersons supported alternative energy projects, it is clear that citizen warnings about the climate crisis and advocacy for renewable energy solutions provided a powerful impetus for this adoption of clean energy technology.
How will this photovoltaic system benefit Waco? Once the invertors, which convert panel DC current into usable AC current, are installed, the solar system will be operational. It is projected to produce 46,000 kilowatt-hours annually, or 46% of the facility’s electricity needs. Since cities produce approximately 70% of global GHG emissions, these 46,000 kilowatt-hours of electricity, devoid of planet warming carbon dioxide (CO2), are vital to the scientific mandate of reaching net-zero GHG emissions by 2050. In addition, by monthly savings on the City’s electricity bill, the solar system eventually will pay for itself. After that, the system is profitable, producing free electricity from the sun. Additional benefits of photovoltaic systems include strengthening of the grid, avoiding power loss of lengthy transmission, lowering maintenance cost (biannual cleaning), and creating installation jobs. (Note the Solar Energy Technology program at TSTC Waco). Finally, through its example, the City of Waco can be a powerful leader, inspiring others to install solar systems.
Who should install photovoltaic systems in Waco? Unfortunately, the amount of rooftop solar in Waco lags that of many other sunny cities. For comparison, in November 2018, Google Project Sunroof found that Waco had 66 solar installations, and Orange, CA (with similar population) had 2,100 installations. For all those considering solar systems, remember that tax credits remain available: 26% of system cost in 2022, 22% in 2023, and 0% in 2024. Widespread distributed solar is mandatory in mankind’s greatest challenge of the climate and features of various sectors are noted below.
- Governments. All the small towns and suburbs surrounding Waco should follow in the footsteps of the City, and benefit from Waco’s experience.
- Residences. Electricity produced beyond that used by the home during peak production hours is credited to the homeowner’s bill through net metering. By adding a battery to the system, solar owners have a source of backup power during local power outages, which are likely to increase in frequency. Further, solar systems typically increase home resale value by 4%.
- Businesses. As noted above, photovoltaic systems are excellent long term business investments. In addition, solar is a component of corporate climate responsibility, with major corporations, such as Apple, Facebook, Google, and Microsoft, being powered by clean energy.
- Churches. Solar systems are perfect for the “creation care,” emphasized by many faiths. In fact, “Interfaith Power & Light” is a multi-denominational organization which broadly addresses the climate crisis, including through some 770 U.S. congregations with rooftop panels. In Waco, Lake Shore Baptist Church should be applauded for its 2015 solar system installation, apparently one of the first church systems in the state. We encourage all congregations in Waco to strongly consider going solar—to save money and to protect our fragile planet.
- Schools. Schools that invest in photovoltaic systems provide concrete evidence that they care for the future of our climate—and thus the future of their students. Without a livable planet, the future for current students is indeed bleak—no matter how superior their education. In addition, solar systems are excellent living laboratories for students in math, chemistry, physics, engineering, environmental science, and solar technology. In the Waco area, Rapoport Academy, Hallsburg ISD, Live Oak Classical School, and McLennan County Community College are the only schools with photovoltaic systems, to my knowledge. Baylor University’s image seriously needs solar energy, and all schools in Waco would benefit from this technology.
- But aren’t we preoccupied with the acute emergency in Ukraine? Our hearts go out to the Ukrainian victims of Russian aggression, and humanitarian aid now is vital. But the intense scaling up of solar and all renewable energies must continue uninterrupted. Through this we mitigate the climate crisis while weakening Putin and other petrostate despots who threaten world peace.
What are the next steps? Since solar panel projects are a win-win for the City budget and for the climate, we recommend including solar in all new City construction, and adding solar to one pre-existing City building (with suitable roof) each year. In addition, an ordinance requiring solar on new commercial construction of medium to large businesses would be a robust start to involving non-governmental buildings.
But first, and for less than $30, the City should install vivid yard signs, proclaiming with pride the presence of photovoltaic panels on the roof of Fire Station #6—setting a compelling example for everyone in Waco.