Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority (VTA)
Location: San Jose, Calif.  • Project: Solar panels

In partnership with SunPower Corp., Joint Venture Silicon Valley and Wells Fargo, the VTA installed solar parking canopy systems, totaling 2.1 megawatts, at its three bus maintenance divisions - Chaboya, Cerone and North.

"Joint Venture Silicon Valley worked with Santa Clara County to take the lead on a renewable energy request for proposal (RFP) and a number of public agencies joined in as part of that effort," says VTA's Environmental Program Manager Tom Fitzwater. "The whole idea was to leverage an aggregate solar project that would encourage more solar companies to compete and give us some kind of economy of scale and better pricing, because they'd be competing for a number of projects in a number of jurisdictions."

VTA financed the system through a power purchase agreement with SunPower. Under the terms of the agreement, Wells Fargo owns the systems that SunPower designed and built. The company will also operate and maintain the solar panel array. The transit operation is hosting the systems and buying the electricity at prices that are competitive with retail rates, protected from rising electricity prices. VTA also owns the renewable energy credits and environmental benefits associated with the system.

The power derived from these solar panel systems will offset the electricity demand for the three bus maintenance divisions. The clean electricity generated by these systems will also offset more than 2,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions each year, which is equivalent to removing more than 9,000 cars from California's roads or planting 10,000 acres of trees over the next 20 years.

"We are basically generating power all day long and essentially selling it back to Pacific Gas & Electric Co. (PG&E) during the day, when usage is highest," says Fitzwater. "Our bus division's highest usage is in the middle of the night, when we're doing maintenance as well as fueling and cleaning the vehicles, and that's when rates are very low. So, the idea is that it is sort of cost neutral."

Through the energy agreement, VTA expects to save approximately $600,000 a year.

The solar panel project is part of VTA's overall sustainability program, which launched in July 2007. Other environmentally-friendly projects the agency has taken on include replacing more than 2,000 interior lighting systems with LED, recycling programs for glass and other materials, and switching from a timer-based to a weather-based irrigation system that only waters plants when it is hot or the ground is dry.

"What helped us early on is that we had audits done of all of our facilities by the Santa Clara Water District and PG&E, who then provided us with no-cost improvements, low-cost improvements and higher-cost improvements," says Fitzwater. "We jumped on all the ones that were no-cost, then the low-cost, and now, we're inching into the higher-cost items. All told, we project that we're saving about $1 million a year from our [green] efforts."



Sun Tran/Sun Van
Location: Tucson, Ariz.  • Project: LEED bus facility

In January, Sun Tran celebrated the opening of its Northwest Bus Facility, which was built in three phases. All the buildings in Phase II, including the operations and maintenance buildings, were completed in 2009 and attained LEED Gold certification.

"It's good for our employees, because it's a healthier, more pleasant place to work," says Sun Tran/Sun Van GM Kate Riley. "Further, it supports the City of Tucson's goals for sustainability. In 2006, Tucson Mayor and Council adopted LEED Silver standards for all new City-owned buildings. Sustainability becomes a lifestyle as the LEED buildings are built around energy conservation and recycling."

The operations and maintenance buildings constructed during Phase II include approximately 62,000 square feet of space, 17 bus bays, and a driver dispatch center. LEED-related features include natural lighting, furnishing and flooring with low-VOC emissions for improved air quality, and post-industrial recycled content for building materials. It also includes 68 kilowatts of solar-power generation, reclaimed water for irrigation and toilets, and roofing materials designed to help reduce interior and exterior temperatures and energy costs.

Riley explains that the LEED process sets goals to achieve the highest level of success. The atmosphere, she explains, creates some competition with the partners to come up with new ways or strategies to achieve a higher level, which in turn leads to a better working environment.

"Because of this competitive atmosphere, Sun Tran's build out of Phase II of the facility earned LEED-Gold status, when the second phase of the project was originally created to achieve LEED Silver certification," she says.

Phase III of the $56 million project includes a 27,000-square-foot administrative building, as well as an expanded maintenance building that added 13 more bus bays, a body shop and an additional wash bay is also seeking LEED Gold certification. During the peak month of construction on the entire 25-acre facility, 186 full-time local jobs were created, according to the agency.

Riley explains that the project is just one facet of the agency's commitment to being environmentally friendly.

"It's a good way for us to improve the Tucson region's sustainability," she says. "Green building is just one of the many ways Sun Tran supports overall sustainability — we go beyond what people see on the street every day, which is operating a fleet that uses clean fuels and technology such as compressed natural gas, biodiesel and hybrid [vehicles]."[PAGEBREAK]

Toledo Area Regional Transit Authority (TARTA)
Location: Toledo, Ohio  •  Project: Maintenance facility

In February, the Toledo Area Paratransit Service (TARPS) division of TARTA was joined by federal, state and local officials for the opening of its new 80,000-square-foot energy-efficient maintenance facility.

The new facility, which created approximately 20 construction-related jobs and retained 60 others, was built on a former industrial brownfield site and includes a biodiesel fueling station as well as enough space to efficiently service, wash, fuel and store more than 100 buses under one roof. The facility's central office space will be home to approximately 100 TARPS employees.

"As TARPS has seen its ridership double in the past three years, the new paratransit facility was built in response to an increased demand and established a more central location to the service area," says Steve Atkinson, director of marketing for TARTA. "The decision to build a green facility was based on long-term savings over the building's lifespan."

Green features of the building include solar panels, reflective roofing, skylights, radiant floor coils, low-watt lighting, a used oil water heater for bus washing, and a geothermal heating and cooling system.

"The benefit of investing in green features will allow for long-term energy savings and reduced expenses for lighting and HVAC," says Atkinson, who adds that the agency didn't seek LEED certification, because it was not financially feasible.

The Federal Transit Administration (FTA) funded 75% of the $9.6 million TARPS facility. The FTA also provided $3.4 million to the paratransit division to replace 38 of its 59 vehicles in 2011, and most recently, awarded TARTA a $1 million grant to build a solar-panel array at its Central Avenue headquarters and replace the facility's lights with modern, energy efficient equipment. The solar array on the roof and the bus garage will be collaboratively designed by the transit agency and the Arts Commission of Greater Toledo. There is no timetable for when the project will be built, however, since it needs to first be designed and engineered, according to a Toledo Blade report.

When asked what advice he would impart to other agencies looking to embark on a similar project, Atkinson says forming the right team is key.
"Working with the right partners is essential when taking on green projects, especially when new construction is involved," he says. "The architect of the new TARPS facility was also the project manager and incorporated the green features into the building's original design as well."


Location: Portland, Ore.  • Project: Solar panels

TriMet's solar project at the South Terminus of the MAX Green and Yellow light rails lines became operational in February. Located near Portland State University, it is the largest solar project in downtown Portland and a first for the MAX system.

"TriMet is dedicated to sustainability, which includes investing in renewable energy as a way to contribute to cleaner air while reducing energy costs," explains Mary Fetsch, chief media relations officer at TriMet. "The buildings that support the rail system at this location provided the opportunity to add solar and create an iconic feature to the city skyline."

The solar array will produce approximately 65,000 kilowatt hours of energy annually, offsetting energy used by site lighting and two light rail electrical system buildings. The excess energy produced will add clean energy to the Portland General Electric grid. The total energy produced is equivalent to reducing 29 tons of carbon dioxide per year.

Estimated first-year energy savings for TriMet is $4,880, based on 2011 rates. Over the 25-plus-year life of the solar system, the agency expects to earn more than 25 times its initial investment as the value of electricity generated continues to be credited against its power bill. This credit will increase as electricity rates rise over time.

Solar panels enclose the pre-fabricated rectifier and signals buildings and helps provide a more aesthetically-pleasing view from surrounding buildings. The City of Portland permit specifies the buildings have the unique enclosure of TriMet's installation. The project is in the City of Portland's design overlay zone and had to meet Central City Design Guidelines. These guidelines call for emphasizing Portland themes, including sustainability, and for enhancing views of and from the Central City.

Approval was granted in March 2008 for "two pre-fabricated buildings to be enclosed beneath a steel-frame structure of photovoltaic panels and metal-mesh screen," according to the agency. The solar panels and other sustainable features in the project helped secure approval of the project application. The project was built using $1.2 million of federal stimulus funds to pay for the supporting structure.

"As we grow the Portland regional transit system to meet the increasing transportation needs of the community, we work closely with our regional partners to connect land use and transportation as a way to limit the region's ecological footprint. Each project that expands our transit system offers the opportunity to make community- and earth-friendly use of space," explains Fetsch. "By carefully selecting products, incorporating green design principles and analyzing the impact of our construction choices, we make sure that projects built today will support a healthy community tomorrow." [PAGEBREAK]

Wave Transit
Location: Wilmington, N.C.  •  Project: LEED-certified bus station

Being environmentally friendly is not just for larger agencies. In April 2011, Wilmington, N.C.-based Wave Transit, which operates a 38-bus fleet, opened its new $5.3 million LEED-certified Forden Bus Station.

"We are an independent transit authority, so at board meetings we talk a lot about the environmental impacts of public transportation," says Albert Eby, executive director at Wave Transit. "When we started thinking about this building, we decided that throwing a metal building [up] wouldn't be walking the walk."

The 9,000-square-foot indoor transfer facility, named after former Wilmington Transit Authority Chair and civil rights leader Harry Forden, replaces the transit agency's longtime headquarters and will serve approximately 1.5 million riders a year.

Features of the new station that will help Wave save energy include a geothermal heating and cooling unit and LED lighting. In total, Eby says these and other energy-saving measures will help reduce costs 45% to 55%. The agency's new building also has a vegetative roof, which features 15 different types of sedums (succulents) that can go several weeks without rain.

"Because North Carolina has storm water retention regulations regarding how much you have to treat the storm water before it goes back into the system, the vegetative roof has allowed us to build a bit smaller storm pond," Eby explains. "The roof also allows us to capture the water and then water the plants around the building as well as provide extra insulation."

Eby says requiring that a firm had a LEED AP-certified architect to work on the project in the request for qualifications, as well as the construction company working on the building in the RFP, helped Wave Transit tremendously. So did having a great team within the agency and support from the board, he adds.

"It was just a good combination of people with the right skills," Eby says. "It is also really the right philosophy by our board to support it; that's really what it comes down to."

The project was 70% funded by the FTA, including $600,000 in ARRA funds. Eby explains that the success of this program has helped open the door for future green projects.

"The more comfortable you get [with green projects], the easier it is to make the investment, especially for small systems," he says. "We can't be a guinea pig like larger cities, because we don't have that kind of money, so we try to get a little ahead of the curve and make sure we're there integrating proven technologies."