December 11, 2012

Atwater may expand solar reach

ATWATER -- The city is already seeing monetary gains from a massive solar array it completed in October, but the push for more solar energy isn't over.

City officials plan on expanding their use of the clean energy to several other locations in addition to the 1.1-megawatt site at the wastewater treatment plant.

Specific sites, including 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.

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, a Denver-based solar energy company.

Atwater entered into a letter of intent in September with Conergy and during a January 14 meeting, the City Council will consider entering into an agreement with the company.

Councilman Jeff Rivero, who's on the Atwater Solar Advisory Committee, said the city will save about $84,000 by the end of the first year -- if the project goes through. "It's penciling out to save the city a vast amount of money," he said.

Like the solar array at the wastewater treatment plant, the contract between Atwater and the solar company would be a power-purchase agreement. Atwater would provide city land for the company to set up solar panels, which would then sell the power. Atwater would get a share of the power at a reduced cost.

The arrangement between Atwater and Siemens Industry at the wastewater site is saving the city about $5,000 a month, according to city officials.

The newly-proposed project would be just under 1 megawatt, Rivero said, noting that the project is a good way for the city to get some immediate savings from its energy bills. "If you're going to use energy, why not use the cleanest you can get?" he added.

Church agreed that the city is making a good move by utilizing solar options.

"It's clean energy," he said. "It's the right thing to do."

Because of the potential agreement, there are no risks to the city and no out-of-pocket costs, Church said.

The city will publish a public notice before the Jan. 14 meeting when the project might be approved.

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

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