Three charged issues, solar power, electricity rates and "smart" meters, will return to the Modesto Irrigation District board Tuesday.
It will consider an agreement to buy power from a 160-acre solar project proposed for north McHenry Avenue.
Approval of the project would come later, after a review of its effects on the environment.
Directors also will discuss the idea of adding surcharges to the recently raised rates. They would go up or down to reflect certain costs, such as natural gas for power plants or the higher cost of renewable power versus conventional.
The board will not vote on the surcharges Tuesday.
The solar project, the MID's first major venture into this type of renewable energy, would be built and owned by SunPower Corp. of San Jose.
The district would pay the company an estimated $10 million a year over 25 years, along with $4 million in upfront costs for tying the power into the grid and project planning.
The 25-megawatt project would provide just 2 percent of the MID's power, but it would help the district meet a state mandate to get 33 percent of its electricity from renewable sources by 2020. It stands at 12 percent, almost all of it from wind turbines, and more wind is on the way.
The board postponed a vote on the solar purchase agreement Jan. 12 to give SunPower time to meet with nearby residents, including those in the Del Rio community.
Recouping the difference
Critics have raised concerns about the cost and whether farmland should be used for the project.
The board wrestled with electricity rates at two meetings last month, finally voting to raise them 7 percent as of Feb. 1.
That was less than the 11 percent proposed by the district staff, but the board agreed to look at surcharges to make up at least some of the difference.
One option is a surcharge tracking the price of natural gas, the main fuel for power plants. The price has been low recently, but the surcharge would give the MID an automatic means of passing on an increase to ratepayers.
A surcharge could cover the cost of complying with state and federal laws aimed at curbing the carbon emissions believed to be changing the climate. The MID could have to spend upward of $10 million a year on credits that allow it to continue using carbon-based fuels.
Smart meters, read electronically rather than by meter readers on foot, have been installed for most customers. The district staff Tuesday will respond to questions about the accuracy of the devices, which some customers say have resulted in bills that are too high.
The board will get an update on a gas-fueled power plant that the MID and several partners are planning in Lodi.
The MID could have to pull out of the project, or reduce its stake, because the new rate increase leaves it short of the income needed to satisfy bond-rating agencies.
The partners are close to issuing bonds to finance the 280-megawatt project. The MID has a 23.5 percent share and has spent $9.4 million on planning, money it could get back if another utility took its place.
The board will meet at 9 a.m. Tuesday at the district office, 1231 11th St., Modesto.
Bee staff writer John Holland can be reached at email@example.com or 578-2385.