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When will council decide it is worth saving Mantecans $480,000 a year?
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City of Manteca staff needs to listen to Councilman Vince Hernandez when it comes to alternative energy.

Manteca writes checks in excess of $2 million a year to PG&E to power everything from the wastewater treatment plant, water wells, traffic and street lights to typical office uses. That’s more than $28 a year for every man, woman, and child in Manteca.

Hernandez – who by no means is a green radical – years ago initially saw seeking alternative energy uses as a way to reduce America’s reliance on Middle East oil. He tempered his pitch with the fact an investment in alternative energy sources had to pencil out for the city.

One of his first energy proposals was to opt for hybrid vehicles wherever possible. His suggestion was virtually brushed off by then City Manager Bob Adams who dismissed it as not being cost effective.

It is true that hybrids such as the Ford Escape that Manteca eventually put into service cost about $5,000 more upfront due to the electric technology involved. They are ideal for city driving where slow speeds plus stop and go driving maximize the hybrid’s mileage.

Hernandez made his pitch for hybrids back when gas was $2.45 a gallon cheaper. A combination of greater fuel economy for in-town driving and higher fuel prices has put almost every buyer of a hybrid ahead financially after five years when those savings are applied to the $5,000 extra in upfront expenses. And since Manteca tends to keep vehicles 10 years or longer and the fact full-size pick-up truck hybrids have come out that have proven to be effective, it makes no sense the city doesn’t seriously explore using more of them.

But the real money saver is at the wastewater treatment plant.

It was a decade ago that the city first started exploring the possibility of a co-generation plant to use methane from the treatment process to power a turbine to generate electricity. At one point that was projected to reduce the annual PG&E power bill that is now at $1.2 million for the treatment plant by 40 percent.

Of course, it would take “x” amount of years to recover the investment in a co-gen plant or even a solar farm at the treatment facility. What it does, however, is stabilize power costs and - when the upfront costs are retrieved - it means power is being generated for next to nothing.

Granted, if South San Joaquin Irrigation District were the provider today the electrical retail model they have would reduce the existing bill by $180,000 a year. But if a co-gen plan can cut uses by 40 percent that would translate into $480,000 a year. Add on the SSJID discount on the remaining tab and it is another $106,000 in savings. In terms of constant dollars and factoring in no growth the current $1.2 million power bill at the plant would be reduced down to $614,000.

Granted growth means more treatment and more electricity but those new users would be paying the increased bill.

Assuming it costs $3 million to put in a co-gen plant it would take about 10 to 12 years with interest payments on the money used to wipe out a large chunk of the power bill. And as electricity rates climb – which is a given – the savings will be even greater.

However, you can’t move toward saving money with alternative energy sources if you simply keep dismissing Hernandez’ points brought up consistently at every budget hearing through the years plus at other times that it made sense to do so.

Staff, for whatever reason, hasn’t given it a high priority.

Perhaps that is because they haven’t been given specific marching orders by the City Council.

So how about a capital improvement project plan for the next five years that includes a strategy to cut Manteca’s biggest power bill?

This column is the opinion of managing editor, Dennis Wyatt, and does not necessarily represent the opinion of The Bulletin or Morris Newspaper Corp. of CA.  He can be contacted at or 209-249-3519.