Phoenix VA Hospital's Solar Project Still Not Online; Was to be Finished Early 2012

Categories: Solar Energy

If you've driven past the Phoenix VA hospital at Indian School Road and Seventh Street in the past couple of years, you couldn't help but notice its large solar-panel project.

Yet most of the panels have been sitting idle, New Times has learned, collecting sunlight but not transmitting electricity anywhere.

In April of 2011, the Phoenix VA Health Care System told the Arizona Republic and other media that the $20 million project would be finished by "early 2012," and that the panels -- which rest on top of covered-parking structures -- would save the hospital complex $375,000 a year on its electric bill.

That didn't happen, a VA official confirmed.

James Larson, energy manager for the VA center, says that officials believed the project would be finished by early 2012 when the Republic's Sadie Jo Smokey interviewed him in 2011.

In fact, the first phase of the project did go online and provides a capacity of 640 kilowatts in solar-generated electricity. But the larger, second phase, has suffered from delays.

The entire project is intended to provide a total capacity of 4.45 megawatts.

Sometime after April of 2011, Larson says, the VA center received word that it had been approved for federal funds to help upgrade the center's electrical infrastructure.

That left officials with a decision to make, he says. The solar project could be plugged into the center's existing electrical infrastructure, then unplugged and re-plugged during the infrastructure upgrade. Or, the panel array could be delayed until the completion of the upgrade.

Officials, with the advise of utility Arizona Public Service, decided the latter option was best, Larson says.

Though not hooking up the solar panels to the grid meant the expected electric-bill savings has not yet been realized, VA officials believe their decision did, in fact, save money. Larson says our layman's term for the hookup, "plugged in," oversimplifies a complex process that has a six-figure cost attached because of labor and equipment.

Upgrading the center's electrical infrastructure was essential to powering three new buildings at the center, he adds.

The upgrade is basically finished at this point, he says, and the entire solar project is expected to finally go online in the next few weeks, possibly as soon as two weeks, Larson says.

An official comment on the project from the VA is forthcoming, spokesman Scott McRoberts says. (See update below)

Sunwize, the solar company that installed the panels, declined comment on the project. The company announced in a September 2012 news release that the entire project was "completed."

While not providing electricity, it's not fair to say the panels have been completely useless:

They make decent sunshades.

UPDATE 4:15 p.m. -- Scott McRoberts called back to say the Phoenix VA Health Care System had no comment beyond what Larson told us. We asked McRoberts if the article is accurate, and he said yes. We'll let you know when the project is fully operational.

UPDATE November 2013 -- Solar panel project finally transmitting power.

Below are Google Map satellite images of the medical center, before and after the installation of solar-panel-topped covered-parking structures:

Phoenix VA hospital complex before solar-panel project.

Phoenix VA hospital complex after solar-panel project.

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The only thing is the pay back will be 70+ years,


The fact that APS wants to pass a "tax" for all customers to pay, due to the solar panels that are starting to come online and fed into the grid is wrong! The fact that the folks have added solar power to their houses, business, etc  to help offset their personnel cost, but they have been willing to also tie into the grid, so that the power that is being generated can be shared with others, should be a plus. But what is ticking them (APS) off now, is they have to pay solar folks a cut of "their" money that we pay them as customers. (Oh boo hoo) Now, I am not for sure if APS and SRP would keep the taxes, (they probably will and call it a  "subsidize") or if it would go into the states coffers to help on upgrades and upkeep of the infrastructure. But, as we are all aware of, it will probably  be the "subsidize" that will happen if they get their way and it goes into effect.

So this makes me wonder, when the VA does actually go online and is tied in to the grid, how much will the VA get back besides the money they will be saving in the daily use of the solar panels? Or was that already figured into the amount that will be saved?

I am a vet, and really enjoyed having covered parking when I have to go there.


If I understand your story correctly, Ray, the second phase of the solar panel/shade structure project has not been connected, even though it was completed and ready for use some time ago. 

So, what's the problem?

This sounds like a NON-news story.

If hook up does take place as the VA now says plans call for, what's the problem?

Could there have been better project management by completing the electrical system upgrade first? Is that your point? If it is, that point becomes moot as soon as it all goes online in a couple of weeks.

Congressional funding (the appropriation process) is not up to the executive branch. You do know that, right?

Even if there is room for legitimate criticism, again, it all becomes moot when the project is finished and the shade structures do more than just provide shade.

By the way, that shade is incredibly important to the thousands of veterans (including me) who regularly received medical care at the facility.

ExpertShot topcommenter

I spoke with an man from the engineering department there at the VA (he gave me a ride on his cart) who said that APS didn't want the project to come online because of the competition for electricity production.  Similar thing they're trying to do to screw over rooftop solar producers!

APS is a monopoly granted its charter by the State of Arizona taxpayers.  They need to start behaving like the company they are, not a company they aren't.  They are NOT a capitalist enterprise which has to compete against any other company - they are a quasi-government entity which needs to serve the people, not their shareholders and board of directors - their return is set by the rules promulgated by the Arizona Corporation Commission.  APS, Stop Competing with Solar Producers - you don't compete with other coal or natural gas producers of electricity so stop with the crap against solar.

You know, when APS had their "STAR" so-called Research center at University and McClintock, they had a whole bunch of arrays there.  They weren't testing or researching SHIT out there - they were warehousing these arrays to keep them out of the public power production business.  APS doesn't want solar power production by anyone, much less individual homeowners or VA Government facilities. 

People, we need to check these assholes!!!  They got their damn nuke plants, now they want to kill solar - well, we need to kick these buttheads in the balls and tell em to produce 50% of their electricity with Solar instead of just 15%.  It's HUBRIS that causes APS to do this. Their top employees and lawyers are really fucking assholes and should be checked by the ACC


Sounds like noraml federal government S.O.P. 

ray.stern moderator

@arizonaeagletarian The shade may be important to you, but that's strictly a side-benefit of the project. Building anything causes shade to happen. I disagree with your news judgment, obviously. You just want happy solar news. The fact that a solar project has been delayed for more than a year is news. And yes, the story becomes moot when they get the panels online -- as I and Scott McRoberts discussed when I initially called him. You may know exactly when that will happen, but the VA doesn't. Two weeks is the minimum. Maybe it'll be another year -- but if that's the case, that still wouldn't be news in your book, right?


@ArizonaEagletarian  Thanks for your service.


@ExpertShot No, APS is NOT a quasi-governmental agency. That's Salt River Project. APS is an IOU (investor owned utility). 

Both enterprises have declined to take the lead in moving to renewable energy production and both play defense -- pretty badly, in my opinion.

Your second paragraph mixes up concepts. However, APS is indeed the owner of the facility at McClintock and University.


@ray.stern @arizonaeagletarian Why would it be news? The issue is a time differential between when separately funded federal projects are completed. As you should be able to tell from the comments, Your story seems to imply something was done that ultimately was a misjudgment by someone, somewhere in the process. But you don't identify what you think was done wrong, or why.

RAY: Your mistake is that you're incorrect about what my story "seems to imply," as you put it. The article is a news story about the year-plus delay of a $20 million federal project. Calling it a "time differential" is an interesting euphemism for what really happened!

An understanding of government financial management might help you realize that there actually may not have been anything done improperly.

RAY: That's redonkulous. All that's needed is an understanding of the meaning of the word "incomplete." As in, the project was not completed when expected. I would add that the story does educate the public on one aspect of "government financial management."

If the project never goes online, that would be news. Otherwise, you have not (yet, perhaps) identified anything of consequence that warrants casting aspersions.

It would also be news if you identify some impropriety or unethical action that caused the delay.

If you can't find a cause for this delay, what exactly is your point?

Ray: One point is that the $375,000 in estimated power-bill savings did not occur. While the VA believes it's possible that delaying the hook-up saved labor and equipment costs in excess of $375,000, but they told me they don't actually know that. One other ramification is that the expected savings in emissions wasn't realized. The story follows up on media coverage from 2011 that said the project would be complete in early 2012. Also, the solar panels appear to be working, so the story dispels the notion that they are. 

Btw, as an aside, when you make a statement anything like "You just want happy solar news"  you're identifying a problem in YOUR news or other judgment. That statement reveals a problem with EQ (read Daniel Goleman for insight on what EQ is) that would probably benefit you significantly when you resolve it.

ExpertShot topcommenter

@arizonaeagletarian @ExpertShot Are you not aware that a corporation is designated as such after being chartered through the Arizona Corporation Commission?  It is indeed a quasi-government agency as it only exists because of a charter granted for its incorporation by the Government of the State of Arizona.  In fact, the largest subsidy it's investors (it's owners) receive is the protection under state law to limit the investor's losses to the amount of their initial par value of the stock of APS they own, taxpayers get to pick up the rest if they screw up and have to go bankrupt.  It is called limitation of liability and it is the precise reason by a group of owners want to be incorporated under the laws of the State of Arizona.  If the government did not provide this subsidy, APS would be formed as a partnership or sole proprietorship, a form of business under which owners are liable for ALL THE COSTS of a enterprise.  For someone who claims to be knowledgeable of such matters, you got a lot to learn. 

In addition, the State of Arizona grants APS a monopoly and as a result of that SUBSIDY, controls the rates at which they can sell electricity to their ratepayers.  These subsidies guarantee that APS will make a profit, which allow APS to conduct all sorts of non-power generation activity (lobbying, donating money to non-profits, paying lawyers to screw with solar businesses, etc. etc.).  Look at the list of non-profits which take APS' dirty money.  These non-profits are basically on APS' payroll, defending APS  at every turn, providing community goodwill cover while APS continues to pollute our community with their deadly nuclear pollution and coal generated electricity and EVEN WHEN APS TRIES TO DEFEAT SOLAR!!!

These non-profits are going to be outed soon to our community and we will know which ones care about our community and which ones care more about APS' money paying the salaries of their director (talking to you Valley Forward!!!).

Through the generation of toxic emissions from their coal fired plants and the production of nuclear power, APS is a murderer on a massive scale, not just of human lives lost to respretory diseases and nuclear contamination but to our environment and the human systems which depend on maintaining our environment in a statis which supports optimum life for us.  

They ARE a quasi-governmental agency, not the same as SRP, but just as pernicious a socialist organization as SRP.  The owners of APS certainly did not "Build it themselves."

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