DOWNEY - At first glance, it appears that the Florence Avenue branch of U.S. Bank has just installed carports for its customers. That's certainly a nice amenity, one that will be much appreciated by U.S. Bank patrons in sunny southern California.But on closer inspection, those parking canopies serve a much more significant purpose: namely, they house a solar panel installation that is now providing electrical power for this local U.S. Bank branch. The Downey location is in fact one of eight branches in southern California which have built similar facilities since design and planning began last fall. The overall capacity of all locations is expected to approach one megawatt. At the end of a six-month turnaround from design to installation, eight of nine planned southern California locations are either now up and running or will be soon, with all but two utilizing parking canopies to support the solar panels. (The remaining two turned out to be more feasible as rooftop arrays.) Other cities with branches participating in the project are Claremont, Fullerton, Los Alamitos, Mission Viejo, Rancho Cucamonga, and San Diego. U.S. Bank is collaborating on these projects with SolarCity, one of the nation's largest and most respected providers of solar energy. The idea for solar carports originated from within U.S. Bank, but all the project's funding came from SolarCity, which will maintain ownership of the solar installations while offering 20-year price guarantees to U.S. Bank through what's described in their joint news release as a Power Purchase Agreement, saving U.S. Bank money through "cost avoidance" by keeping solar rates under the utility's electrical rates. The PPA is not the only means through which U.S. Bank has financed its renewable energy projects. At one of its locations, in Clayton, Missouri, a solar array was purchased outright. The bank is also considering lease agreements as well--options, it should be pointed out, also available to the potential residential user. While making and saving money plays an important role in this collaborative venture, it's evident from talking to executives at both companies that this enterprise is about much more than money. In fact it's clear that both SolarCity and U.S. Bank have long-term commitments to providing leadership by example in the development and use of renewable and sustainable energy, especially, in the case of U.S. Bank, as it is able to simultaneously inform and educate its customers and employees. U.S. Bank's website, for example, offers a virtual tutorial for sustainable business on its "Environmental Sustainability" page. The bullet points of that page's mission statement bear repeating here: "At U.S. Bank, we believe we can help protect and conserve our natural resources by: *developing less resource-intensive business practices. *embracing opportunities for financial products and services that incorporate features or benefits for reduced environmental impact. *investing in environmentally beneficial business opportunities. *engaging and educating employees and customers." Those concepts are certainly worthy of consideration by Downey businesses, for U.S. Bank has, in keeping with its philosophy, provided a tangible example to the Downey community of how to move forward towards more sustainable energy use. Meanwhile, the U.S. Bank branches which house these new SolarCity-built solar arrays are looking forward to grand openings in the near future, and thus far have received "nothing but positive responses" from their customers. One enhancement under consideration from the standpoint of customer education is the possibility of real-time data displays, possibly on kiosks, that would let customers know how much energy is being generated and how much greenhouse gas production is being averted through each renewable energy installation. Moreover, U.S. Bank is also alert to the possibility of other kinds of renewable energy in addition to solar, as well as expansion of the carport solar concept. So what will the environmental impact of these new solar carports be? Over the course of their lifespans, U.S. Bank projects that these solar installations, including the Downey Florence Avenue branch, will reduce CO2 emissions "by more than 35 million pounds, which is equivalent to taking 3,068 cars off the road or planting more than 19,000 trees."

********** Published: May 16, 2013 - Volume 12 - Issue 05