North Face building solar power system in Visalia

VISALIA, CALIFORNIA - The North Face distribution center in Visalia will soon have a 1-megawatt solar power system to burnish the outdoor clothing and equipment retailer's environmentally conscious image - and save electricity costs.

The solar-power array will be built over a storm water retention area beside the 800,000-square-foot distribution center and is expected to be finished by the end of the year, EI Solutions, the San Rafael-based designer of the project, announced recently.

The system will be built, owned and operated by San Francisco-based Recurrent Energy, which will sell the power to The North Face under a power-purchase agreement, Recurrent spokeswoman Helena Kimball said. The 5,445 solar panels that make up the system will be mounted on devices that will turn to track the sun through the course of the day, increasing the amount of power they generate, according to EI Solutions.

The cost of the project was not disclosed, but Kimball said it was in the "millions of dollars" range and would involve about 100 workers during construction.

Phone calls to San Leandro-based The North Face, a division of VF Outdoor Inc., were not returned.

"We have achieved a tremendously innovative design that will yield above-average energy production, emission reduction and financial savings," Steve Rendle, The North Face president, said in a statement. The system will generate enough power to offset about 1,300 metric tons annually of carbon emissions from more traditional electricity-generation sources, the equivalent of taking 250 cars off the road for one year, EI Solutions said.

The North Face isn't the only company to build a large-scale solar project in Visalia. In September, worldwide aluminum giant Alcoa Inc. turned on a 500-kilowatt solar system on the roof of its Visalia aluminum door and window fabrication plant, using a Velcro-like mounting system to save on the project's cost, which was not disclosed.

Other large-scale solar projects are in operation or being built across the valley, including a 1.13-megawatt, $3.2 million system at Clovis-based P-R Farms and Paramount Farms' $7.5 million, 1.1-megawatt system covering about 8 acres in Lost Hills in Kern County.

Fresno Yosemite International Airport recently flipped the switch on its 4.2 megawatt-per-year solar array, the largest of any airport in the nation. The system was built for $16 million by a New Jersey-based company which will own and operate it and sell the power for an estimated electricity cost savings to the city-owned airport of $13 million over 20 years.

California State University, Fresno, also recently finished a 1.2-megawatt solar power system atop parking lot shade structures that is among the largest at any U.S. university and will produce about 20% of the university's electricity.

And San Francisco-based Cleantech America LLC is building a solar-power farm outside Mendota that is expected to generate 5 megawatts, enough electricity to power about 7,800 homes, to sell to Pacific Gas & Electric Co.

Cleantech also has announced plans to build 80 megawatts of solar power in the Valley by 2011, a plan that would call for covering about 640 acres with solar panels that could generate enough power for more than 20,000 houses.


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