Skip to content

Solar deal to shade 660 downtown parking spaces

The Mesa Tribune

Mesa City Council approved an agreement last week with Tucson-based Solon Corporation to install almost 3,000 kW of solar panels over parking lots at four city-owned buildings in downtown Mesa.

The panels will generate enough energy to power 500 homes annually.

Besides boosting the Mesa electric utility’s renewable energy portfolio, the solar arrays will also provide shade for about 660 parking spaces. Most visible of these will be the 142 in front of the Main Library.

In addition to the library, Solon plans to install solar over parking at the CK Luster Building, the Transportation Building and the Solid Waste & Meter Shop.

In all, 509 of the covered spaces are available to the public; the rest will be used exclusively by fleet vehicles.

Last year Mesa completed 900 kW of panels over parking spaces at the City Plaza and Development Services buildings. The new agreement is more than triple the size of last year’s installation.

Solon must start constructing the solar arrays within the next year and complete the project within 210 days of the start of construction.

City officials said recently they are currently negotiating a separate deal to place solar panels over parking at the Mesa Arts Center.

Parking shade plays a major role in comfort and safety in Arizona. A 2017 study by Arizona State University and the University of California, San Diego tested car temperatures after 60 minutes in the summer sun vs the shade.

In one test vehicle, the seat, dashboard and steering wheel reached an average of 156 degrees after an hour in the sun. The average in the shade was 116 degrees.

Solon is slated to install the panels as part of a 25-year power purchasing agreement with Mesa’s electric utility.

Under the deal, Solon installs and maintains the panels at the company’s expense, and it then sells the energy produced to the city at a fixed price – between 9 and 10 cents per kilowatt-hour, depending on the location.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average cost of electricity in Phoenix was about 14 cents in April, the most recent data available.

While residents are most likely to notice the shade from the new solar panels, city council members expressed enthusiasm for the resilience the panels would add to the local grid and the contribution to Mesa’s renewable energy portfolio.

The new panels could generate 1.7% of Mesa electric utility’s demand, bringing the utility’s total renewable energy to 35.7%.

“I think it’s so important to have renewable energy and especially on our city-owned assets,” Councilman Mark Freeman said in a recent study session.

Downtown Councilwoman Jenn Duff said downtown solar generation gives her comfort.

“I sometimes worry about the grid across the country,” Duff said, citing recent disasters that affected the energy market, such as wildfires in California and the 2021 freeze in Texas.

“There’s sometimes less energy on the market, which escalates the price dramatically. … More than prices, how about if there’s no energy to buy, and we’re in the summer?”

In an emergency, solar could generate power in the city’s core during the day, she said.

What about the night?

With council’s support, the Mesa Energy Department is currently studying utility-scale battery storage for solar energy as well as new natural gas generation for Mesa’s Energy Resources Department. Both of these could power the grid when the sun sets.

Register for the Council’s upcoming Phoenix and Tucson tech events and Optics Valley optics + photonics events.


Sign up for our