4-acre solar carport at Novato’s Buck Institute could power 300 homes

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Visitors, employees and operators of the landmark Buck Institute for Research on Aging facility atop a Novato knoll will have it made in the shade under a new big solar carport.

The four-acre structure went online May 12. In addition to sheltering cars from heat and inclement weather, the system is anticipated to save the institute at least $300,000, or 30 percent, each year on energy bills. Built on the Buck’s upper parking lot, the 1-megawatt solar photovoltaic panel array atop carports will provide enough power for up to 300 homes per year.

The project owes its success to Ralph O’Rear, the institutes’s recently retired vice president of planning and facilities. O’Rear suggested the south-facing parking lot as a demonstration project to MCE, also known as Marin Clean Energy, and championed it through feasibility studies and the approval process. The project was implemented with no cost to the institute, other than staff time involved in the five-year project. The renewable energy produced by the solar carport shade will be delivered directly to MCE’s customers, including the Buck Institute.

“This reduces the drain on the local power grid and will be of real benefit to the community during the hot summer months when demand peaks,” said O’Rear. “It also means more money for science at the Buck, which is a great benefit for our researchers.”

The project was negotiated as part of the larger 23-megawatt Cottonwood solar project that EDF Renewable Energy built in 2015 in Central California under contract with MCE.

“At MCE, our mission is to address climate change by reducing energy-related greenhouse gas emissions,” said Dawn Weisz, CEO of San Rafael-based MCE. “We’re thrilled to be flipping the switch on the Buck solar project. It’s a perfect example of our shared community values in action — new renewables leading to more jobs and priceless environmental benefits. It’s been a great partnership between the Buck Institute, EDF, and Cupertino Electric.”

MCE ( is a public, not-for-profit electricity provider that buys and builds cleaner electricity supply. MCE, which began offering its services in 2010, gives PG&E customers in Marin, unincorporated Napa County, Richmond, San Pablo, El Cerrito and Benicia the choice of having half to all their electricity supplied from clean, renewable sources.

A ribbon-cutting ceremony for the project is set for May 12. Also recognized will be O’Rear, who spent 18 years at the Buck and played an instrumental role in its growth and success.

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