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November 15, 2012

Atwater collects benefits from solar site

ATWATER — The city that succeeded in its push to invest in solar energy is now reaping the rewards.

During a council meeting Tuesday night, representatives from Pacific Gas and Electric Co. presented the city with a $224,681 check. The money is the result of the state's California Solar Initiative program, which offers rebates to organizations that invest in solar.

The city completed a 1.1-megawatt solar array late last month. The project is expected to significantly reduce energy costs at the city's new wastewater treatment plant that became operational in June.

Mayor Joan Faul said the city's pushing to be on the forefront of clean, alternative energy options, and with a precarious budget situation, all the monetary savings help too.

"We're just so thrilled to receive it," Faul said. "We're working on every possible way of increasing our revenues."

Councilman Jeff Rivero, who spearheaded solar project, said he's interested in possibly introducing more solar projects on a smaller scale in the future.

More solar could also be added at the wastewater treatment plant if it's needed, he added.

Frank Pietro, Atwater's interim city manager and police chief, noted that the community center, civic center and various wells that consume a lot of energy are all potential solar sites.

Siemens Industry built the solar array at the wastewater treatment plant. The company will operate the solar panels on the city land, then sell cheap energy to Atwater as part of a power-purchase agreement.

Rivero said the setup is beneficial for all parties because it helps PG&E meet its renewable energy requirements, Siemens gets to use city land to generate solar energy, and Atwater gets cheap power and other benefits from the venture.

The wastewater plant's energy bills total about $60,000 a month, and the arrangement with Siemens will save the city about $5,000 a month, according to early estimates from city officials.

Siemens, which invested about $4 million in the community with the development of the solar site, will clean and maintain the solar panels throughout the 20-year contract with the city.

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

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