Atwater looking at solar project

Mnorth@mercedsunstar.comFebruary 26, 2013 

— ATWATER -- City officials are looking forward to sunnier days as they inch closer to a new solar energy project.

During a meeting Monday night, the City Council considered approving a power-purchase agreement with Conergy Projects Inc., but since City Attorney Tom Terpstra was absent, the decision was pushed off on a 4-0 vote until a March 11 meeting so the contract can be reviewed by legal counsel.

Councilman Joe Rivero was also absent from Monday's meeting.

If the project is approved, the city would provide land to the solar company, which would set up and maintain solar panels and sell cheap energy back to Atwater.

Specific sites, such as City Hall, the Atwater Community Center and various wells, have been identified as some of the city's highest energy consumers, said Public Works Director Dave Church.

Those are all sites where solar panels could be located.

The solar panels at City Hall would be mounted on top of 15-foot canopies covering the public parking lot and the Police Department parking lot. The panels at the community center would be mounted on the roof.

By setting up solar panels at those locations, the city could save about $13.5 million over the next 30 years, according to a recent proposal given to the city by Conergy.

The city recently completed a similar project at the waste-water treatment plant. Councilman Jeff Rivero was pleased with the savings from that 1.1-megawatt solar array. The proposal for the new projects would generate about 1 megawatt of power.

Rivero said the energy generated from the new projects would be sold back to the city at a slightly cheaper rate than the power coming from the solar array at the waste-water treatment plant.

He's also excited about the money the city could get through the California Solar Initiative, a program that offers rebates to organizations that invest in solar.

Atwater got $225,000 from the state for its project at the waste-water treatment plant, and the new projects could bring in $166,000.

If it's passed next month, there would be no out-of-pocket cost for the city, Church said.

Conergy would maintain the solar arrays until the contract expires after 20 years, at which time the city would have the option to renew a contract or purchase and take responsibility of the solar sites.

David Vincent, project development manager for Conergy, said the new projects could be completed by the end of this year, barring any delays with the contract.

Reporter Mike North can be reached at (209) 385-2453 or mnorth@mercedsunstar. com.

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