| UPS package
center powered by sun [Palm Springs]
Valley operation is pilot project for global shipping firm
Hirsh The Desert Sun 2003.7.27
PALM SPRINGS -- This is not your high school science project.
Constructed in three rows containing 144 panels -- or 864 individual
energy-converting modules -- the solar electric setup at United
Parcel Service takes up nearly the entire roof of the companys
distribution facility on Commercial Road. It spans an area the size
of a football field.
The sun-powered system, which went into operation in late May,
is among the largest in the Coachella Valley. The Palm Springs project
also marks the first time that the global shipping services giant
has ever tested such a system at its 1,800 facilities worldwide.
"This is our first adventure in solar energy," said Mike
McAdaragh, a plant engineering manager at the companys Atlanta
headquarters. "Were looking at Palm Springs to see what
we can get in savings, what the system can handle and what kinds
of adjustments we need to make."
UPS is projecting that the system, installed by Shell Solar, will
save between $15,000 and $18,000 annually in electrical costs for
the 27,000-square-foot local facility. According to Mike Eaton,
a regional plant engineering manager for UPS, solar power in the
long run should provide about 90 percent of the Palm Springs facilitys
The plan by UPS is to take the solar concept to many more of the
Eaton said Palm Springs was a good location choice for the UPS
pilot project, thanks to the valleys year-round abundance
of sunshine and relatively mild climate. The solar array, located
just west of the Palm Springs International Airport, was constructed
in consultation with city officials, and it was designed to be aesthetically
compatible with its surroundings.
UPS officials said they could not disclose the cost of the system,
citing a policy of not discussing details of vendor contracts. But
representatives of the solar power industry and Southern California
Edison confirmed that a system the size of UPSs would range
in cost between $200,000 and $800,000.
Available federal and state incentive programs, however, would
bring the final costs much lower. For instance, a system costing
$800,000 to construct would likely qualify for nearly $385,000 in
buy-down incentives from California utility agencies, another $41,500
in federal tax credits and $56,000 in state tax credits, bringing
the actual final cost to just over $317,000.
Power generated by solar cells goes directly to the electrical
grid serving all consumers. Business and home owners receive credits
and billing discounts based on how much power their solar units
generate in kilowatt hours.
According to Southern California Edison, the popularity of solar
incentive programs has been on the upswing since 2001, when rolling
blackouts and skyrocketing electrical costs caused a short-term
crisis for the state.
Laura Rudison, a project manager with Edison, said the company
received 150 applications in 1999 for its self-generation incentive
program, which includes solar projects. In 2001, with the crisis
under way, applications zoomed to 500.
Currently, Rudison said there are about 2,000 valley solar projects
for which business and home owners have applied to Edisons
incentive program. The program pays up to 50 percent of the costs
for installing solar panels, depending on how much electricity is
The valley figure represents about 10 percent of total solar projects
in Edisons service area, which includes parts of 10 Southern
California counties. Edison serves about 4.5 million residential
and business customers.
Local use: In the last three years, local use of solar power has
been growing among companies big and small.
Last year, London-based energy titan BP PLC opened a new Arco station
in Palm Desert built with 108 solar panels, expected to provide
20 percent of the sites energy requirements.
Smaller businesses are also following suit. Rancho Mirage resident
Bob Winet, a longtime advocate of alternative-fuels research, said
he is planning to set up solar panels, possibly this fall, at a
business storage facility he owns in Palm Springs.
Winet said hed like to see solar power take hold on a larger
scale in the valley. He said government and business leaders need
to give higher priority to renewable energy sources, especially
in light of recent energy price hikes and concerns about deteriorating
air quality in Southern California.
Lawmakers: But he acknowledged that the issue could remain on the
back burner, while California lawmakers grapple with other pressing
"What's really lacking is leadership at the state level,"
Winet said. "But right now it looks like theyve got their
minds on other things."
In the valley, the predominant alternative energy initiatives include
use of compressed natural gas -- for example, in SunLine public
transit vehicles -- and the harnessing of wind power via numerous
UPS in recent years has embarked on a number of alternative energy
programs. Companywide, it operates 1,024 delivery vehicles that
run on compressed natural gas. It has 764 vehicles running on propane
in Canada, and anther 82 in Mexico City.
In November 2002, UPS deployed what the company said were the package
industrys first alternative-fuel tractor-trailers, and the
company also has tests in the works for hybrid electric and fuel-cell
At the Palm Springs UPS facility, district business manager Rich
Day said the solar panels have caused no problems in terms of downtime
or outages, and required no change in operations outside of monitoring
the system occasionally via an on-site computer.
"It was a seamless transition," Day said. "You really
couldnt tell that anything had been changed."