San Rafael’s City Council unanimously decided on March 18 to become the lead agency for a three-county group-purchasing project. The program will allow Marin, Napa and Sonoma counties in California to use their collective facilities as bargaining leverage to get discounts on solar arrays for municipal buildings and facilities.
Under the project, supported by a Solar Roadmap SEED Fund grant, San Rafael will work with Strategic Energy Innovations (SEI) and Optony Inc. to develop requests for proposals (RFP) for the participating municipalities in the three-county region, explains the City of San Rafael’s Sustainable and Volunteer Program Coordinator Cory Bytof. “This is a grant that came through the California Solar Initiative fund, and what it does is provides solar feasibility studies for municipal operations and it tries to combine several municipalities…into one bulk mechanism for cost reductions.”
The city’s partners, SEI and Optony, aren’t affiliated with any contractors, Bytof says. “So you get objective feasibility studies both financial and technical.”
SEI is a California-based nonprofit that works with communities to become more sustainable. It’s partnered with Optony to provide consulting services, including the feasibility studies. The first iteration of the seed fund will support the services and development of RFPs that all the municipalities can use, making it easier and simpler for contractors and installers to work with the municipalities. They’re also looking to make the process self-sustaining. “We’re layering in a revolving fund model…that can drive the process,” says SEI’s Sustainable Communities Director Kif Scheuer. “We hope to recoup all the operating capital through the reimbursements so we can do it again,” he adds.
The plan was in the works for a while but before all the pieces could come together they needed a leading agency, according to Bytof. The lead agency will do the heavy lifting of developing the RFP materials and methods. “We’re trying to lighten the staff burden for all,” he says. By using collective materials, “They’re looking at a cost of anywhere from 8 percent to 12 percent less than purchasing by contracts,” Bytof says. How projects will be financed is still up in the air.They will consider numerous options and decide what’s best.
The col laborative model has already been used in the bay area three times. After this process is complete SEI and Optony will also look to use the model in other markets, according to Scheuer.