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50-acre solar array planned at Sonoma County airport
Largest project yet would power 10,000 homes, county airport operations

What would be the largest solar energy project in Sonoma County, generating enough electricity for 10,000 homes, is being planned for vacant land at the Charles M. Schulz-Sonoma County Airport.

"The goal is to get renewable energy projects started here in Sonoma County and get local jobs in this arena," said Cordel Stillman, the capital projects manager for the Sonoma County Water Agency.

In addition, the airport is planning its own solar installations to provide electricity to the administration building, terminal and runway and security lighting.

"We have been looking into doing our own solar, but we are not super far along," said Jon Stout, airport manager. "We have identified what we need and we are working on bid specifications."

Both projects are still a year or two away from construction.

The water agency's plan by far is the most ambitious and would create a 50-acre solar park that would generate 20 megawatts of power, the biggest solar project in Sonoma County.

Under the plan, the water agency has chosen SunEdison of Belmont to install 54,700 solar panels on the western side of the airport, at a cost of about $100 million.

The next largest project is a $12 million, 3 megawatt solar park that is being proposed in Cloverdale by Cenergy Power, a Modesto- and Carlsbad-based company that specializes in solar installations for agricultural uses.

A megawatt is considered enough for about 500 homes.

Under the Water Agency plan, SunEdison would pay for the installation and own the solar park, with the agency as the guaranteed buyer of the electricity that is produced, according to the plan.

In turn, Stillman said, the Water Agency will resell the power, possibly to the Marin Energy Authority, PG&E or to Community Choice Aggregation, a program under consideration by Sonoma County to develop renewable energy resources.

"The power purchase agreement is very common in the renewable energy business," Stillman said. "Even rooftop systems for homes are done with power purchase agreements. The company that installs the solar owns the system and the homeowner purchases the power."

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