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SSJID buying solar plant land from four cities

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POSTED January 19, 2009 1:20 a.m.
Manteca is getting lower power costs for its portion of the Nick DeGroot South County Surface Water Treatment Plant plus receiving $150,646 from the South San Joaquin Irrigation District as a bonus.
The SSJID oversaw the construction and now the operations of the treatment plant for the cities of Manteca, Lathrop, Escalon, and Tracy. The district last year built a solar power plant on 42.7 acres at the treatment plant site.
The solar project is designed to supply power to the treatment plant and wean it off PG&E power.
The SSJID built the power plant and is assuring power costs will never be higher than what PG&E charges. That is a worst-case scenario. It is already supplying power cheaper than what PG&E charges due to increases that have already been put in place after the solar project was completed. SSJID believes that power cost ultimately will be 15 percent lower than PG&E.
By buying the land from the four cities, SSJID cushions the municipalities from any liability. Manteca will receive $150,646, Lathrop $170,885, Tracy $181,492, and Escalon $9,377. Manteca’s share is smaller than Lathrop and Tracy because it needs less water due to blending the treated surface water with well water during peak usage months and relying mostly on well water during the winter and therefore owns a smaller part of the project. Lathrop and Tracy do not have that luxury due to maxing out their well system and issues they have with ground water quality.
The money would go back into the various cities’ respective water accounts.
The SSJID board opted to proceed with the solar project for three reasons. First, there was the question of PG&E reliability. There had been numerous power disruptions to the treatment plant. Second, they are committed to green power as 100 percent of their energy generation portfolio is non-polluting. Third, it is part of the sharing of the Tri-Dam benefits that the SSJID has promised across the board within the district.
That is the reason they are moving forward with efforts to secure retail service from PG&E in Ripon, Manteca, and Escalon to reduce power costs by 15 percent.
The solar farm is expected wipe out the need of the four cities to pay PG&E about $500,000 a year for electricity. A little over 10 years with the solar farm not even at the halfway point to its minimum life expectancy for the panels, the installation will be paid for. It essentially means free electricity for a minimum of 15 years.
What it means to Manteca, Lathrop, and Tracy water customers is simple. The power bill that the three cities pick up to run the plant will remain relatively unchanged for 10 or so years while PG&E rates in all likelihood will ratchet upwards at the historic 3 percent rate of the past few years. Then after a decade or so, the costs of generating power — in this case paying for the installation and financing — will be paid off. Power costs to operate the treatment plant won’t be part of an equation pushing monthly water bills upward.
The solar farm — just like the surface water treatment plant that SSJID played a key role in making happen — could be construed as a thankless headache for the district whose primary purpose is to provide irrigation water to farmers.
The SSJID board doesn’t see it that way. They believe the SSJID has a stewardship to help the economic vitality of the farmers and communities they serve.
It is all being made possible from an investment made 54 years ago by the SSJID — along with Oakdale Irrigation District — in the Tri-Dam Project that consists of a series of three reservoirs with hydroelectric plants along the Stanislaus River.
The SSJID’s share of the net receipts after covering all expenses is averaging in excess of $10 million a year.
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