EcoMotion’s Senior Solar Specialist Michael Ware serves as MC, and has us all laughing throughout the day. He’s got the bus mike; he’s a very funny man. “You might think this is a solar tour, it’s actually the first deportation.” The bus rises the hill from Gaffey Street and arrives at Westmont. The group dons yellow hard hats and bright safety vests. Then we ascend a major scaffolding stairway to the top of the five-story warehouse. At street level, trucks come and go incessantly; three lifts are hauling crates of Sunpreme bifacial panels to the roof. This is a busy place.
The rooftop has banner views of the busy Port of Los Angeles; huge freighters are unloading nearby. We’re atop one of four buildings that make up the 100-acre Westmont complex. Building 400, that we are on, is nearly a half mile long. To the north of the 100-acre distribution center campus, is the Phillips 66 refinery. What a contrast to solar; a classic clash of old and new energy resources. One is belching smoke.
Just as Westmont’s enormity struck me three weeks before, the installation again gave me the “solar goose bumps.” The tour group was clearly stunned. This is the power of the industry, its momentum in plain view. What a great start to the tour.
Herb Mendelsohn of PermaCity Solar welcomes the group and explains the fundamental deal. This is the largest Los Angeles Department of Water & Power Feed-In-Tariff (LADWP FIT) installation ever, by a factor of five. The project’s output will be rewarded with 13 cents/kWh for 20 years. The $38 million project is fully financed, with no money down for the distribution center owner. Instead, the owner gets brand new roofing: nearly 2 million square feet of “TPO,” thermoplastic polyolefin.
The owner also gets rent for leasing out his “roof real estate” for 20 years. The lease payments are for an asset that had been unused. And the owner gets the HVAC bonus of having solar on its roof and less heat.
We look north and see Building 300 completely adorned with panels. It is a sea of rich blue; it looks like a lake in the foreground of the refinery. We see technicians on that roof doing low-voltage wiring, creating the conduit pathways that collect from the thousands of panels there. Overall, the Westmont project will be made up of some 50,000 panels, all of which are 300 to 370 watts. Bifacial panels add to the power of the arrays, delivering 10 – 20% more power through back-lit solar.
To the South is Building 200. There, roofers are preparing new roofs, adding new skylights with burglar bars. This is one massive operation. There are workers installing PermaCity’s patented Solar Strap racking system. In another area are technicians fastening the panels to their Solar Strap legs. We watch as they use special heat guns at 1,100 degrees to fuse the Solar Strap racking into the TPO membranes.
What a show… all in order and at a remarkable pace. Much of the labor pool is from EmPower America, a non-profit dedicated to placing U.S. Veterans in valuable jobs, providing training and pathways to stability and honor. Our group, minds blown, re-board the bus with most of the tour ahead.