Monthly Archives: September 2014

The little street car that could….and did

The modern streetcar in Tucson, Arizona is not like any of the ones you have seen in old Hollywood movies. Remove any image of Marlon Brandon shouting “Stella” from your mind when thinking about this state-of-the-art streetcar.

While Tucson’s streetcar may not look like ones from A Streetcar Named Desire, there were a lot of big desires and hopes riding on it. Primarily the desire that it will help spur economic development and revitalize the city’s downtown.

Credit: City of Tucson Department of Transportation

Credit: City of Tucson Department of Transportation

Just a few years ago, Tucson watched Phoenix, it’s big neighbor to the north, successfully build out a new lightrail system. At this time, mass transit in the second largest city in the country’s fastest growing state (according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s latest estimates) was only a plan on paper, a vision of  the City of Tucson’s Department of Transportation and many residents.

The first real chance for the City of Tucson to install a mass transit system came when the project was added to the $2.1 billion, 20-year Regional Transportation Authority Plan approved by voters in 2006. Inclusion in the plan provided public support and the largest portion of funding, $87.7 million, for a modern streetcar. An additional $63 million in funds came from a Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) grant provided to the City of Tucson by the U.S. Department of Transportation in 2010. This helped close the funding gap and increase momentum on the project.

The Cadence, new University of Arizona student housing in downtown Tucson.       (Credit: Ankrom Moisan)

The Cadence, new University of Arizona student housing in downtown Tucson. (Credit: Ankrom Moisan)

Throughout it’s construction phase, Tucson watched as the modern streetcar turned desires of revitalizing the city’s funky and vintage downtown area into a reality. Developers and business owners jumped at the chance to be part of transit-oriented development and set up shop along the route, and they are still jumping. Tucson’s downtown has gained hundreds of millions of dollars in public and private investment thanks to the installation of the streetcar. Bustling, hip new restaurants, bistros, and bars now line the route, and the University of Arizona worked with developers to build new student housing downtown making it easy for students to take the streetcar to and from campus.

This past July, Sun Link – the rebranded Tucson Streetcar,  began operations, an effort 30-years in the making. Today, Sun Link runs seven days a week along the 23-stop, four-mile route that connect’s the University of Arizona, downtown business districts, entertainment venues, and the convention center. Members of the community came out in mass to celebrate the grand opening of Sun Link. The little streetcar that could saw 17,000 riders its first day of operations during a free ride promotion. A little more than two months into its operations and there are murmurs of a new desire to expand the route. Sun Link is on the right track to become an icon in Tucson’s community landscape.

Today, we continue our series on BIG projects hearing from Shellie Ginn, a Transportation Administrator for the City of Tucson’s Department of Transportation and the project manager and champion who worked on the Sun Link for the past decade. We welcome her insights.

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Looking west down Congress Street in  Tucson, AZ in the 1890's. (Credit: Tucson Historical Society)

Looking west down Congress Street in Tucson, AZ in the 1890’s.
(Credit: Tucson Historical Society)

Sun Link is a first-of-its kind transportation option for Tucson. Where did the idea for this modern streetcar originate?
First, let me remind you that we once had historic trollies running through Tucson in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s. The concept of the modern streetcar was one of several options considered during an Alternatives Analysis started in 2004. The goal was to connect activity centers in the central/downtown Tucson area and provide a vehicle for economic development. Ultimately, the streetcar was selected as the mode of transportation to meet those goals.

Why was a fixed-guided electric rail system chosen over other alternative transportation systems such as a lightrail?
The streetcar was selected due to the greater economic development potential it offered to this area. Other cities such as Portland, Oregon and Seattle, Washington had seen a revitalization of their downtowns due to this type of transit system. We had similar activity centers and were certain we could see the same results.

The Sun Link route connects the University of Arizona, business districts, and the convention center. What other alternative routes were considered and why was its current route chosen?
The majority of the current route was in all of the alternatives considered. The areas where we had different alignments were around the University of Arizona (around vs. through?) and also how long the system would be. We looked at multiple alignments that included one on 6th Street versus 2nd Street and a longer alignment that traveled up Campbell Avenue to Grant Road. The current route was selected due to its use of roadways that were more pedestrian focused and also directly connected five districts (Mercado District, Downtown, 4th Avenue District, Main Gate District and the University of Arizona). Also, traversing through the University of Arizona campus had the greatest ridership potential.

Sun Link Route Map (Credit: City of Tucson Department of Transportation)

Sun Link Route Map
(Credit: City of Tucson Department of Transportation)

What type of community involvement was done? What aspects of the project did the community help define?
The community was involved from the beginning of the project. We developed a Citizens Liaison Group (CLG) which was made up of representatives from the neighborhoods along the alignment, business association groups in each of the districts being considered for the alignment and special interest groups such as the Tucson/Pima County Bicycle Advisory Committee and the Commission on Disability Issues. Education facilities were represented as well. This group helped review multiple technologies and alignments ultimately selecting the modern streetcar as the preferred technology and the current alignment as the preferred route.

Since Sun Link was new to the community, what type of public education efforts were undertaken?
Public Education and outreach were critical to this project and was included throughout the entire ten years this project has been in development, design, construction, testing and finally, operations. Reaching out to the public and including them in the decision making process led to a transit system that is exceeding its ridership goals and promoting economic development along the entire four-mile line. Our outreach included many presentations to stakeholders along the alignment and throughout the Tucson community, public open houses, and briefings to various leadership in the City, County, State and Federal government. Public outreach and education will be ongoing as a new group of students arrive on the University of Arizona campus each Fall Semester.

Sun Link has been credited with helping to revitalize Tucson’s downtown. How has it done this and what are some of the economic development benefits it has brought to the community?
The Tucson Streetcar has been instrumental in the location of several student housing developments along the four mile line. There are over 3,000 units along the line. There are over 50 new restaurants, bars and cafes that have opened up along the four mile line. Over $800 million of public and private investment has been made with an estimate of over 1,500 long term regional jobs created as a result of the streetcar.

An estimated 3,500 people rode Sun Link on its first paid day of operations. Has this ridership sustained? Who are the main people riding on the weekdays versus weekends?
The average weekday ridership is approximately 5,200 per day and the average weekend ridership is 2,700 (with Saturdays in the 5,000 range). There is a mix of ridership to include students, office workers, people riding in the evenings for dinner and entertainment and neighborhoods taking advantage of the streetcar to ride along the four miles.

"Wandering Stars” by artists Joe O’Connell and Blessing Hancock at the Granada Ave/Cushing Street stop. (Credit: City of Tucson Department of Transportation)

“Wandering Stars” by artists Joe O’Connell and Blessing Hancock at the Granada Ave/Cushing Street stop.
(Credit: City of Tucson Department of Transportation)

One unique aspect of the Sun Link route are the different art pieces incorporated at each of its 23 stops and its Operations and Maintenance facility. How were the artists and their pieces chosen?
The art was selected through the Tucson Pima Arts Council (TPAC). Eight stops were identified along the alignment (two per mile) and a simple stop concept and the maintenance facility were added as potential art locations as well. TPAC oversaw a public selection process and the artists were selected based on their artistic concepts through a committee.

What are the opportunities to expand the Sun Link route in the future? What would it take to do so?
Potential extensions are identified in the Pima Association of Governments High Capacity Transit Study from 2009. The next step is to start studying the potential routes and determine what funding will be used.

The Sun Link breaking the banner at it's grand opening celebration on July 25, 2014. (Credit: City of Tucson Department of Transportation)

The Sun Link breaking the banner at it’s grand opening celebration on July 25, 2014.
(Credit: City of Tucson Department of Transportation)

You served as the City of Tucson’s Project Manager for Sun Link for 10 years and guided it from conception to implementation. What was your favorite part of this project?
Over the last ten years, I was able to watch a concept become a reality and see the direct benefits of this type of system in the five districts along the streetcar alignment. My favorite part was the Grand Opening and seeing all of these people wait in long lines with smiles on their faces. It has been such a pleasure to work on a project of this stature.

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For more information on Sun Link visit, like it on Facebook, or follow it on Twitter.

Liz Faris, Account Manager
Collaborative Services, Inc.
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Harnessing the power of the sun

When you think of the Mojave Desert, two words likely come to mind – dry and hot as well as images of Joshua trees, sand dunes, and the barren aptly named Death Valley. As of last year, you can now add a sea of glimmering solar mirrors to that list. Make that a sea of more than 300,000 glimmering solar mirrors that make up the world’s largest solar thermal plant.  The Mojave Desert is now home to the Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System which began commercial operation in 2013 and has been harnessing the energy of the desert sun to power homes in Southern California and reduce the state’s carbon footprint.  The clean electricity produced by the 392 megawatt solar thermal power project is also helping the state known for it’s highways and traffic congestion avoid millions of tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) and other air pollutants, an equivalent to taking  more than 70,000 cars of the road annually.

The three units of the Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System. (Credit BrightSource Energy)

The three units of the Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System.
(Credit BrightSource Energy)

In addition to being the largest solar thermal plant in the world, the Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System has also achieved another first. It received the 2014 Power Magazine’s Plant of the Year award, making it the first renewable energy plant to receive the honor.

The world’s largest solar thermal plant became a reality thanks to a collaborative public/private partnership between the United States Department of Energy, the U.S. Department of the Interior Bureau of Land Management, NRG, BrightSource Energy, Bechtel, and Google. A true testament to how these two sectors can come together on common ground to support the greater good of advancing renewable energy in our country.

Today, we kick off our annual series on BIG projects hearing from Jeff Holland, Director of Communications for NRG, the project’s owner. He fills us in on the vision and goal for the Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System, how stakeholders and the world were kept informed of the project’s progress and the plant’s operations and economic benefit. We welcome his insights.

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The Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System came to fruition through a collaboration of multiple corporate partners. Who were these players and what did they each bring to the table?
With NRG Energy’s leadership as the project owner, equity partners Google and BrightSource Energy and Bechtel’s engineering and construction expertise, the team set a new standard for solar thermal power. At the same time, we’re strengthening the nation’s economy and solar supply chain, as well as helping to shift our country closer to energy independence.

What was the overall vision and goal of the Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System?
The goal was for Ivanpah to become the world’s largest concentrated solar power (CSP) facility, an engineering marvel that increases America’s supply of renewable energy and one that produces clean, reliable solar electricity that will power more than 140,000 homes through California’s two largest utilities—Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) and Southern California Edison (SCE). Ivanpah is a magnificent example of a public/private partnership to bring more renewable energy to our country.

Credit: A Google Earth image of the Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System adjacent to the Ivanpah dry lake bed. (Credit: Mojave Desert Blog)

Credit: A Google Earth image of the Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System adjacent to the Ivanpah dry lake bed.
(Credit: Mojave Desert Blog)

What was the rationale behind locating the solar electric plant on the Ivanpah dry lakebed? Can you describe the environmental considerations behind this choice?
This is land leased to us by the Bureau of Land Management and the lease agreement dictates that we return the land to its previously undisturbed state once the power purchase agreements expire.

As part of our ongoing environmental mitigation efforts, we are working with the appropriate state, federal and local agencies to apply science in our mitigation efforts on a wide range of carefully constructed wildlife and biological protection plans.

While we take the work we are doing very seriously and are putting the measures in place and spending the money on monitoring efforts, it is important to note that, climate change is by far the largest threat to life on earth and we have spent billions of dollars on projects like Ivanpah in our quest to find ways to provide clean, sustainable and renewable energy.

Please describe the general design of the plant and how these design standards contributed to a more sustainable project?
Ivanpah uses software to control hundreds of thousands of tracking mirrors, known as heliostats, to directly concentrate sunlight onto a boiler filled with water that sits atop a tower. When the sunlight hits the boiler, the water inside is heated and creates high temperature steam. Once produced, the steam is used in a conventional turbine to produce electricity. Using this concentrated solar thermal technology.

The Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System begins operation. (Credit: BrightSource Energy)

The Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System begins operation.
(Credit: BrightSource Energy)

Was any outreach conducted to engage stakeholders in the Mojave Desert area?
Of course. NRG is 100% committed to working with the communities in which we operate, and to protecting the health and safety of people, wildlife, plant life, and ecosystems in the areas in which we work.

How did you communicate the project’s progress to the rest of the world. Which communication tools did you find most effective?
We conducted community outreach by attending and speaking at various community-focused events and public hearings as well as direct mail campaigns and developing a project website where people could learn about the progress and gather information on the project’s milestones and accomplishments. We worked with the state and federal groups in developing and reporting all plans to the California Energy Commission who also continue to publish all of our information onto their own website where people can opt-in for updates as well.

Were there any challenges or barriers to receiving public support for the project? If so, how did you overcome these challenges or barriers?
We have worked closely with state and federal agencies and all relevant stakeholders from the moment we began our development of Ivanpah to responsibly address the challenges unique to Ivanpah’s size, location and technology.

As part of our ongoing environmental mitigation efforts, we are working with the appropriate state, federal and local agencies to apply science in our mitigation efforts on a wide range of carefully constructed wildlife and biological protection plans.

I think the public overwhelmingly supports clean energy projects such as Ivanpah when you factor in that it prevents the emission of 400,000 tons of carbon into the atmosphere – tantamount to removing 72,000 cars from California’s roads annually.

Construction workers secure a heliostat onto a pylon. (Credit: BrightSource Energy)

Construction workers secure a heliostat onto a pylon.
(Credit: BrightSource Energy)

Construction of the Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System required thousands of workers. How many people are currently employed by the plant?
At peak construction we employed more than 2,600 people on-site. The project now has 65 employees responsible for the day-to-day operations of the facility. The project also employs 25 biologists for protection and support of wildlife in addition to performing other biological work for the project. At the height of our work, we employed as many as 160 biologists on-site for our Head Start program for desert tortoises. The project provided a local infusion of $300 million in state and local tax benefits at a time when the US economy was going through the “Great Recession” and was in much need of good paying jobs. Total construction wages paid eclipsed $250 million and total employee earnings over the course of the project are expected to be more than $650 million.

How does the plant’s energy production measure up against other similar solar projects?

Ivanpah is the world’s largest solar thermal plant and approximately 100 MWs more than our Agua Caliente photovoltaic (PV) solar plant which produces 290 MWs, which is currently the nation’s largest fully-operational PV plant.

Are there any lessons learned from this project?
As with any large infrastructure improvement project there will be lessons learned. With Ivanpah, we attempted something that had never been done on this scale – and with a brand new technology. We are constantly improving our processes and efficiencies on site and learning about ways we can optimize the levels of power we are producing. We are generating massive amounts of data that will help with future projects going forward and our environmental research work has been ground-breaking for the science community.

Credit: Hotelzon

Credit: Hotelzon

This project is a great example of how corporate partners are coming together to help California to meet its greenhouse gas emissions reduction goal. What are some best practices people can do in their own homes or at work that can help contribute to meeting our state’s goal of reducing its greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2020?
Ivanpah is a magnificent example of a public/private partnership to bring more renewable energy to our country. Ivanpah has drawn support from the Department of Energy (DOE) and NRG due to their tremendous benefits and the hard work of the original project developers. The DOE chose to award loan guarantees to these projects to provide debt support to the original project developers based on the economic, environmental and energy security benefits those projects will bring to Americans. Because projects like this are so important, NRG invested more than a billion of its own capital to provide equity support to the projects because they offer the potential for quality returns and the ability to move clean energy forward in a meaningful way.

We are doing our part, but there are things individual consumers can do to reduce their carbon footprint in their homes. Things like installing solar rooftop systems, purchasing a programmable thermostat like Nest, changing their lighting to compact fluorescence (CFLs), weather-stripping and insulation, turning off electronics and your cable modem when not in use and buying Energy-Star-rated appliances.

Fed Ex Field in Washington D.C. (Credit NRG Energy)

Fed Ex Field in Washington D.C. has an NRG solar installation that can produce up to 2 megawatts of power. Enough power to meet 20% of the stadium’s power needs on game days and all of its power needs on non-game days.
(Credit NRG Energy)

What’s next for NRG? What projects should we be looking forward to?
The energy industry is on the cusp of a revolution and NRG is driving toward a consumer-focused future. Through innovation, the freedom of choice and the self-empowerment, the consumer will realize the enormous benefit of something our generation never experienced – energy self-determination.

NRG is bullish on renewable energy, based on ongoing improvements in the technologies and the effective commercialization of new technologies (evidenced by projects like Ivanpah) that we see continuing over the next five years.

We think solar and wind will become the clear competitive alternatives to fossil generation in the foreseeable future. Photovoltaic solar costs continue to go down, driven by a decrease in panel prices and companies like NRG working to bring down the overall balance of system cost.

In addition to our large-scale wind and solar utility projects, NRG owns high-profile distributed solar installations at several NFL stadiums, including FedEx Field in Washington, DC; MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, NJ; Patriot Place in Boston; Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia; and the new Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif., which is LEEDs certified and will be the first U.S. professional sports venue to achieve net zero energy performance.

Lastly, NRG owns 40 MW of combined distributed solar at various commercial locations in several states, including municipal buildings, hospitals, industrial buildings, schools, universities and retail chains and also partners with notable organizations, such as MGM (Mandalay Bay) and Starwood Resorts to offer solar energy solutions to private industry.

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Solar power is all around us. Whether you live in one of the homes receiving electricity produced by the Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System, a student at a University, a fan cheering on your favorite NFL team in their home stadium, or a guest staying and playing at a Las Vegas resort, the power of the sun may just be helping to power these aspects of your life.

Liz Faris, Account Manager
Collaborative Services, Inc.
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Report Cards Aren’t Just for Schools

Earlier this week, we celebrated Labor Day. That means many schools across the country started session, and with school comes report cards. Report cards identify where students excel or need to improve. But student’s aren’t the only ones that receive report cards. Every four years our country receives a report card on its infrastructure systems from the American Society for Civil Engineers (ASCE).

Like the alphabet is to words, infrastructure is to the systems that create water, energy, and roadways. Infrastructure is the building block of everything. It is our roads and bridges. It delivers water and electricity to our homes. It’s what keeps commerce coming through our ports. And it is the schools where our future leaders are taking their own educational journeys.

Credit: Streetsblog USA

Credit: Streetsblog USA

The report card for America’s Infrastructure is significant because just like with students in school it shows our country where it needs to improve and offers key solutions for how to do so. An advisory council of ASCE members assigns grades using the following criteria: capacity, condition, funding, future need, operation and maintenance, public safety, resilience, and innovation.

In 2013 America’s infrastructure systems scored the following:

  • Dams – D
  • Drinking  Water – D
  • Hazardous Waste – D
  • Levees – D-
  • Solid Waste – B –
  • Wastewater – D
  • Aviation – D
  • Bridges – C+
  • Inland Waterways  – D-
  • Ports – C
  • Rail – C+
  • Roads – D
  • Transit – D
  • Public Parks and Recreation – C-
  • Schools – D
  • Energy – D+

This past year America’s infrastructure GPA was a D+, somewhat of an improvement from the country’s typical D average. The other promising aspect of the 2013 report card is that no categories declined.


Credit: Hearst Communications, Inc.

So how does America improve it’s infrastructure GPA? In many ways it’s similar to how students improve their GPA. Investing in the future through studying and dedication brings grades up. Investing in the country’s future through funding, policy, and public support helps projects move forward improving their grades with the ASCE. This was true with rail category in 2013. The country’s rail system gained more private investment for efficiency and connectivity and saw increased ridership (Amtrak reported it’s highest ridership of 31.2 million passengers in 2012). As a result, this category achieved the highest improved grade moving from a C- four years ago to a C+. While this change doesn’t seem like a lot, the improvement is significant and promising.

Credit: BrightSource Energy

Credit: BrightSource Energy

This month as we kick off our annual series on BIG projects, we will take a look at some of the projects helping to improve America’s infrastructure report card. We will learn about advancements in renewable energy, land use, transportation, and more. Some of these projects are the valedictorians of their fields and others are still improving with lots of potential for the future. Big or small there is no doubt these projects have made a BIG impact on improving the BIG systems that connect us and keep us moving.

We hope you’ll stay with us and share your BIG ideas along the way.

Liz Faris, Account Manager
Collaborative Services, Inc.