Fifteen years ago, Manteca was drawing flak from developers upset with the escalating cost of a wastewater treatment plant expansion.
The city was rapidly running out of capacity while staff had convinced elected leaders to — as now City Manager Karen McLaughlin described it — “go big.”
That meant not just going with state-of-the-art upgrades after the original design was launched but spending the money needed to oversize basic facilities so future capacity would be obtained by essentially adding a parallel plant instead of through more costlier and time consuming expansion.
The cost of the project almost doubled to $48 million.
Today, the City of Manteca is sitting pretty.
Not only have rates been unchanged for seven years, but they are now in a position to harness technology built into the plant to combine methane gas with food waste to produce compressed natural gas to fuel the municipal fleet of solid waste collection trucks.
At the same time plans are going forward to build a one megawatt solar farm that will supply about a third of the electricity needed to operate the plant. While some financial savings will be realized initially even with having to pay off loans to put the solar farm in place, ultimately it will cut at least $400,000 a year off the current PG&E bill of over $1.2 million. It also means future PG&E rate increases will be dulled.
The environmental impact report for the 5.5 acre solar farm project going on the northwest of the treatment plant property near where West Yosemite Avenue meets the Union Pacific railroad tracks by the ACE station along with the food waste conversion plant and an accompanying liquefied natural gas fueling station are before the Manteca City Council on Tuesday. They meet at 7 p.m. at the Civic Center, 1001 W. Center St. Once the EIR is approved, the projects can proceed to bid.
The solar project has an eight year payback while the life expectancy is 25 years. That means for 17 years the city will be getting free electricity to operate a third of the plant.
Electricity is the highest cost involved in running the wastewater treatment plant.
The largest single solar installation serving the South County is the 1.6-megawatt Robert Schulz Solar farm operated by the South San Joaquin Irrigation District to provide almost all the power needed for the surface water treatment plant that provides water to Manteca, Lathrop, and Tracy. It is helping to keep costs down for drinking water in the three cities.
The largest aggregate solar installation, though, are all the panels operated at various Manteca Unified School District sites.
The solar panels generated 27 percent of the district’s power needs in 2013-14 saving roughly $500,000.
Manteca is the only city in the Northern San Joaquin Valley moving to harness food waste and methane gas from a wastewater treatment plant that is now burned off with a flame to produce fuel.
The solar project and the food waste recycling will help reduce the city’s carbon footprint.
The city is also getting ready to put in purple pipe as part of the family entertainment zone project to provide recycled water to irrigate parks and landscaping south of the 120 Bypass within the next two to three years.
McLaughlin said the wastewater treatment plant account fund has sufficient reserves to pay for the solar farm without a rate increase. Once the solar farm is in place, it will help reduce pressure for future rate increases.
Manteca is also the only city in California moving toward development of a 500-room destination resort on wastewater treatment property as part of a 210-acre family entertainment zone. The Stadium Retail Center anchored by Kohl’s and Costco along with the Big League Dreams sports complex has already been built on land that was once part of the treatment plant site.
The city’s decision to purchase land south of Manteca on Hays Road to allow for future land disposal of treated wastewater via a pipeline is making development possible.