Solar Project comes online at the Buck

Saving the Institute 30% per year on PG&E Bill

It’s beyond a win-win. A one-megawatt solar carport shade structure built on the Buck’s upper parking lot, scheduled to go online late in May, will save the Buck at least $300,000 per year on energy bills.  The project, spearheaded by MCE, will reduce the drain on the local power grid and gives Buck employees covered parking that will protect their cars from the blazing summer sun.  And by the way, the carport cost the Buck nothing, other than staff time involved in the project. 

The solar project was five years in the making and owes its success to Ralph O’Rear, recently retired as the Buck’s Vice President of Planning and Facilities. O’Rear suggested the south-facing, four-acre parking lot as a demonstration project to MCE and championed it through feasibility studies and the approval process. MCE is a public, not-for-profit electricity provider that buys and builds cleaner electricity supply. MCE, which began offering its services in 2010, gives all PG&E customers in Marin, unincorporated Napa County, and the cities of Richmond, San Pablo, El Cerrito, and Benicia the choice of having 50 to 100 percent of their electricity supplied from clean, renewable sources.

This project achieves one of MCE’s primary commitments – to create local renewable energy projects. The renewable energy produced by the solar carport shade will be delivered directly to MCE’s customers, including the Buck Institute. The power is produced and consumed locally, reducing the strain on the power grid, improving power quality, and resulting in electric delivery cost savings for the Buck Institute. “This reduces the drain on the local power grid and will be of real benefit to the community during the hot summer months when demand peaks,” said O’Rear. “It also means more money for science at the Buck, which is a great benefit for our researchers.”

“At MCE, our mission is to address climate change by reducing energy-related greenhouse gas emissions. We’re thrilled to be flipping the switch on the Buck solar project. It’s a perfect example of our shared community values in action – new renewables leading to more jobs and priceless environmental benefits. It’s been a great partnership between the Buck Institute, EDF, and Cupertino Electric,” says Dawn Weisz, MCE CEO.

The Buck-based project was negotiated as part of the larger “Cottonwood” solar contract that MCE has with EDF Renewable Energy (EDF) to build 23 megawatts of solar energy in central California.   EDF, which is headquartered in San Diego, is responsible for developing the solar array at the Buck and for its long-term operation.  Cupertino Electric built the structure, supporting 25 IBEW union jobs during the six-month construction process.

A formal ribbon cutting will be held at the Buck on May 12th, with speakers from MCE, EDF, and Cupertino Electric in the Drexler Auditorium. The event will end with a staff-led appreciation for O’Rear, who spent 18 years at the Buck and played an instrumental role in its growth and success.  For more information about the event, email

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