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Ready to power Mantecas future
SSJID plan keeps $12M annually in local pockets
South San Joaquin Irrigation District Electrical Technician II Chris Whittenburg makes his way across the Robert O. Schulz Solar Farm. - photo by HIME ROMERO
South San Joaquin Irrigation District is posed to play a pivotal role in Manteca’s future prosperity just as its creation 100 years ago gave the community economic strength.

This time around the SSJID after providing a secure source of water for both agricultural and urban growth is getting ready to add inexpensive and reliable retail power to its repertoire of services to spur job growth and a healthier South County economy.

SSJID General Manager Jeff Shields indicated the board is preparing to re-file its application at the San Joaquin Local Agency Formation Commission during its centennial year in its bid to take over the retail distribution system in Manteca, Ripon, and Escalon from the quasi-public PG&E to improve service and lower electrical rates at least 15 percent across the board.

Data being prepared for LAFCO indicates the fiscal impact on the three cities and surrounding farmland will be $12 million annually put back into the pockets of households, businesses, farms and even government agencies through the 15 percent reduction in power costs.

The SSJID will do that by keeping the franchise fees to the cities not just intact but giving them slightly more money. That means a city like Manteca, which receives $495,000 annually in franchise fees from PG&E will remain whole plus get a little more. At the same time, the city would benefit from a 15 percent reduction on their electric bill which means almost $200,000 in savings or the equivalent of two police officer positions each year.

The SSJID is also working with Manteca to devise a way to reduce power costs even further by developing a solar farm to run the wastewater treatment plant much like the SSJID did for the cities of Manteca, Tracy, Escalon, and Lathrop to power the Nick DeGroot South County Surface Water Treatment Plant. The SSJID is already delivering a 15 percent savings to the cities through the solar farm at the treatment plant.
The district’s rate reduction will also come with a significant uptick in assistance programs aimed at reducing power use for its future customers.
“These will be programs tailored toward those living in our district and framers,” Shields said.

Unlike PG&E that devises its state-mandated assistance efforts to a wide variety of climates with most emphasis on urban users, SSJID can zero in on programs that are more beneficial to those who reside within the 72,000 acre district.

Shields said the competitive edge that lower electrical prices would give Manteca in seeking new employers can’t be overstated especially with nearly 1,000 acres in projects that encompass employment centers, distribution centers, and large office complexes moving through the planning stages.

He noted that during his 10-year stunt at the Trinity Public Utilities District that did not have a rate increase while PG&E customers had over a dozen, the publically owned utility district was able to save the top employer in town – a sawmill – by luring a firm to take it over just as it was lowering power rates.

Lower power rates are critical to attracting and keeping employers.

Eckerts, for example, is a large agricultural processing operation on Moffat Boulevard with huge electrical use. Having a 15 percent cut in power costs in the razor-thin profit margin world of agriculture can make a difference between keeping a plant open or closing.

Rising energy costs are forcing other processors such as Travaille & Phippen almond hullers and processors to move to solar in a bid to reduce their costs. For every 3 cents a pound they charge growers to hull and process, a third of it is eaten up in power costs. PG&E has raised rates three times in the last 14 months putting further cost pressures on employers as well as workers.

It was lower power costs that lured firms such as Hewlett-Packard and NEC Electronics to Roseville and Intel to Folsom. Roseville has its own municipal electric department while Folsom is part of the Sacramento Municipal Utility District.

Also working to Manteca’s advantage – and that of other cities in the district – is they now have a secure source of surface water to augment underground supplies. The treatment plant – when the second phase is completed – will ultimately support a population of 140,000 plus in Manteca.

Water made big
difference for
The formation of the SSJID on a 396 to 67 vote on May 11, 1909 laid the ground work to change Manteca from a sleepy stop on the railroad line to a bustling community.

By the time irrigated water reached Manteca for the first full farming season in the spring of 1914, a number of people and businesses were moving into the community. The initial year of irrigation took crop production up from 14,195 acres to 24,210 acres.

It caught attention of Spreckels Sugar that was looking for a second refinery in addition to their operation in Salinas. They key components were the right soil, transportation and – most important of all – an area that had an irrigation system capable of supplying farmers with waster every seven to 10 days.

Manteca was able to beat out Mossdale and Stockton where the Spreckels representatives were favoring to locate due to access to both water and rail shipment by civic leaders putting together a deal for 449 acres one mile southeast of the community.

The $2 million refinery was on the drawing boards by November 1916. Manteca was preparing for the arrival of 300 more families. The formation of the SSJID put in a series of events that pumped economic life into Manteca and led to the city’s incorporation in May