Solar panel project uses unusual method 

X-rays are not something one imagines being applied to parking lots.

But sure enough, San Mateo County contractors are in the process of X-raying the county’s five-story parking lot as they prepare to construct its largest solar panel array.

Construction will begin in June on a massive solar panel array that will shade cars on the fifth story of the County Center’s garage near downtown Redwood City.

About half the funding for the $2.75 million project is coming from federal stimulus dollars. The rest of the investment should be recovered within 11 years, as the solar panels do their work to reduce the county’s PG&E bill, Deputy County Manager Peggy Jensen said.

The construction should take about four or five months, and the final result will be a carport-like design over the parking spaces on the top of the parking lot, Public Works Deputy Director Doug Koenig said.

Preconstruction work is already under way, he said. The entire fifth-story slab must be X-rayed in order to determine where the reinforcing steel bars are located, Koenig said.

The contractor must avoid these as they drill anchor bolts into the cement.

Once the solar panel array is installed, it will be the county’s largest. The county also installed solar panels at its 7-year-old crime lab, and has several smaller arrays.

The county is also in discussions with a company that builds bloom boxes, which are very efficient natural-gas energy generators, Koenig said.

However, those discussions are at a standstill at the moment because the county missed out on a window when the federal Department of Energy was subsidizing the systems.

“We’re trying to take advantage of any new technology we can, but it’s got to make some financial sense for us,” Koenig said.

Asked whether these measures make any financial sense at a time when the county faces a nearly $100 million deficit, services are being slashed and employees are losing their jobs, Jensen said that these investments will likely save money — and services and jobs — in the long run.

“This is one-time money that we will spend on an investment that will ultimately save us money,” Jensen said. “It’s going to create long-term savings which will help us keep jobs in the future.”

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