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River Islands may go solar in big way

The Lathrop Irrigation District that provides electricity to the 11,000-home River Islands planned community is moving toward a decision that could make it the first Northern San Joaquin Valley community to generate almost all of its own power from solar.

It would involve creating community solar fields along with batteries to store solar power generated during the day for use at night or on cloudy days. The system would have enough storage that River Islands could go 10 days using stored power without the need to generate more electricity. That is more than enough to avoid any PG&E imposed outages when the for-profit utility shuts down transmission lines that serve almost all of San Joaquin County as well as the Sierra foothills and mountains to the east whenever severe wildfire conditions exist.

River Islands Project Manager Susan Dell’Osso said the decision will be made soon given this is the final year that the 33 percent solar tax credit is in place.

If the LID does proceed, it likely will become the first utility in California to go 100 percent solar way ahead of the 2050 date set by the state.

The plan is to install solar panels on places such as buildings in the planned business park  and structures such as car ports. The biggest grouping of solar panels is envisioned for land Cambay Group is setting aside to widen the Paradise Cut along the southern edge of the planned community’s border. Paradise Cut serves as an overflow from the San Joaquin River channel at a point just slightly northeast of the Interstate 5/Interstate 205 interchange to the Old River channel on the far northwest corner of the River Islands development.

That means water could occasionally flow under the large groupings of solar panels envisioned for community power generation.

Dell’Osso said that would avoid the need to place large, unsightly solar panels on homes.

The Lathrop Irrigation District that exclusively serves River islands that now has 1,500 homes that are occupied was formed in 2002 at the time PG&E was going through its last bankruptcy. PG&E didn’t object at the time apparently believing   it wasn’t likely to be a threat to take away a future customer base.

Today, power rates for River Islands residents are 5 percent lower than for PG&E customers including those residing in Lathrop north of the river.  

The LID model is for the gap between River Islands and PG&E electricity rates to keep growing. Dell’Osso noted that as PG&E hikes go up — the for-profit utility is asking for a 12.1 percent rate hike in 2020 — the LID rates will stay the same. That’s because growth will allow the government utility to spread basic operating costs over more uses and then simply hold the price charged for electricity. That way as PG&E rates go up the LID rates will become even lower in comparison.

To contact Dennis Wyatt, email