SFO heats up power-saving efforts 

One of the area’s biggest energy users is reducing its power bill, one solar panel at a time. Construction on a new photovoltaic panel installation, a $5.6 million project funded completely by the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission, is slated to begin soon, airport spokesman Mike McCarron said. An exact date hasn’t been nailed down yet, he said.

According to a San Francisco Airport Commission-approved agreement, the SFPUC will install solar power generation systems in Terminal 3, one of the domestic terminals. The terminal sucks up between two and 2.5 megawatts of energy — which represents approximately 5 percent of total airport power usage. The solar panels are expected to save half a megawatt — enough energy to power approximately 500 homes — and $200,000 annually, McCarron said.

SFPUC provides all the power for public uses in The City, including the airport, which spends $30 million annually on power. SFO and the San Francisco Municipal Railway are two of the utility’s biggest customers, according to SFPUC spokesman Tony Winnicker.

"This will really help us in an era where everyone is concerned about air quality, emissions and climate change," Winnicker said.

The SFPUC already has installed solar panels on some city-owned buildings, including Moscone Center, library branches and wastewater treatment plants. More self-generating power sources will allow the public utility to deliver more of its power — mostly hydropower generated from the movement of water to the Bay Area from the Hetch Hetchy Reservoir — to other customers in town.

"We’re expanding our customer base," Winnicker said. "It makes sense for us to expand our resources."

The airport also has solar panels on its engineering building on McDonnell Road, in place since 2001. The 20-kilowatt system has, to date, saved 116,000 kilowatts, McCarron said.

Mark Westlund, spokesman with the San Francisco Department of the Environment, said residents and businesses citywide have been encouraged to go solar. The department’s work has focused on the southeast end of The City, which, after being home to two power plants and a Superfund site, saw a "disproportionate environmental burden," Westlund said.

So far, as part of the department’s environmental justice program, some 60 solar panels have been installed in a range of public and private buildings.


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