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Solar panels could one day cover BLD parking lot

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POSTED September 13, 2012 12:16 a.m.

Drop by the Big League Dreams to catch a game or run by Costco and you might one day be able to park your car in the shade and save money on your Manteca municipal sewer bill.

An energy consultant is exploring ways of utilizing solar panel topped parking structures to significantly reduce the city’s $1.1 million annual PG&E bill to operate the nearby wastewater treatment plant.

The city has acreage around the treatment plant for a possible solar farm but Public Works Director Mark Houghton noted the land could be put to more evaluable use. The city is working on a long-range proposal to convert much of the land into a business park as well as an entertainment center.

Houghton indicated city has not approached the owners of the Stadium Retail Center with the concept. Instead, they are waiting to see what figures the consultant comes up with in their study.  The city owns the 500 plus parking space lot at BLD. Houghton said the city is also looking at two other locations on municipal property for solar panels.

The city issued the $135,000 consultant contract after the Manteca Unified School District started its own solar energy initiative. The school district is looking to install solar panels - mostly by doing double duty as parking lot shade structures - in a bid to shave $3.2 million annually off its PG&E bills.

“The cost of solar panels has come down significantly,” Houghton said referencing a global glut.

It is prompting a number of government agencies and private businesses to seriously consider solar as a way to save money and provide a hedge of sorts against future electrical rate hikes.

The consultant is also exploring how the city could use carbon tax credits to their advantage through how the project is financed in the private sector.

The lifespan of such a system is at least 15 years. The cost recovery of the investment expected to take six to seven years. That means if power prices do not change and use remains constant (both are anticipated to increase, though), the city could save up to $9 million in 15 years after recouping its original investment based on preliminary estimates provided when the council was asked to hire a consultant for more detailed work.

The consultant will also look into the economics of a co-generation plant where methane gas - a byproduct of the treatment process - is used to turn power turbines. Methane is generated around the clock. Solar power is only generated during daylight hours. Currently the methane gas is burned off into the atmosphere.

Funding for the solar project would be taken from fees collected monthly on residential and business sewer charges. The goal is to try and eliminate and/or minimize future rate increases because of rising power costs. Savings could also help offset increases in other parts of the plant’s operations such as chemical purchases.

Staff has noted if South San Joaquin Irrigation District were to become the retail electricity provider for the city, it would take a bit longer to retrieve the cost savings due to the SSJID goal of delivering power at costs 15 percent below PG&E prices.

The SSJID has indicated they might even be willing to consider participating in the creating of a solar farm at the treatment plant.

A solar farm needed to help power the treatment plant has been estimated to cover up to 20 acres. That would be about 40 percent the area of Woodard Park.

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