Photo: Akim Aginsky

November 5, 2019 – Western Gateway Park in Penn Valley is a community hub of sports, nature, entertainment and many picnics and get-togethers. With electricity available at several of the sites, it was a natural choice that a solar array be installed at the park. It was a natural fit that California Solar Electric Company (Cal Solar) install the system.
“It really came down to dollars and cents,” said Nancy Pierce, chairman of the board of directors for the park. “The park was paying about $12,000 per year for electricity and we have plenty of areas where the solar exposure is excellent. We are now expecting to see a total savings of about $175,000 over 25 years! The park can use that savings to do many other things for our users,” Pierce added.

The Western Gateway Recreation & Park District Board of Directors chose to use the solar array as rentable picnic space. “We have little in the way of roof space that is correctly oriented for a solar project,” Pierce said. “This necessitated utilizing a ground-mount system. Because we are a public space, it was logical to use a carport structure for security. We have a huge parking lot with great solar exposure and so that seemed a natural fit. The structure would cover about eight parking spaces, not really much of a gain there to make it an advantage. One night it suddenly dawned on me that moving the structure to the adjacent green area and using it as a covered picnic area made more sense.” The park board and Cal Solar agreed it would work.

“We already have three covered picnic areas that are very much in demand and contribute to our park rental income,” Pierce said. “Having a fourth for our park visitors, especially located so close to our parking area, restrooms, and the frequently used bocce ball courts is a tremendous addition to our park facilities. Plus, it’s generating electricity!”

Photo: Akim Aginsky

Installing the array as a covered space also blends with the park aesthetics.
“We have the array nestled back in a tree line over a grassy area so it’s not that noticeable,” Pierce said. “Now that there are tables under it, it looks just like a covered picnic area.”

And it is a good model for other parks. “In our situation, the solar array over a covered picnic area is a winning combination,” Pierce said. “The project would have cost less had we been able to use an existing roof. I think it would work for other parks in our situation.”

And it blends so well that the park staff has not had much feedback from the public. “I think it is just an accepted addition to the park,” Pierce said.

Which is also why Cal Solar was such a natural fit for the project. With it’s dedication to community and the environment, the park setting and Cal Solar are symbiotic.

“The board of directors went through a careful and extensive process to become educated on solar as a means of generating electricity,” Pierce said. “We called a number of solar companies in our area to ask for bids on our project. Three companies responded and after a period of about a year we finalized with California Solar. Not only were they the lowest bidder, they were the only company with the commercial solar expertise we needed for this installation.”

Pierce went on to say that as construction projects go, it was a smooth process. “I loved working with Cal Solar and appreciated their experience and knowledge,” Pierce said. “They were key in demystifying the intricacies of a solar project. Reid England was the lead on the actual construction. He was efficient, knowledgeable, and produced a quality product. Angelica Niblock was our office support. She made sure I got documents signed and helped smooth out wrinkles with the paperwork and the county. Martin Webb was always available and in contact when needed. He knows the solar industry, patiently answered questions, and was the project’s biggest cheerleader.”