Jeff Jardine: Patterson and Waterford going solar

jjardine@modbee.comFebruary 12, 2014 

  • ABOUT THE REPORTER
    alternate textJeff Jardine
    Title: Local columnist
    Coverage areas: People, issues, the community
    Bio: Jeff Jardine joined The Bee's staff in 1988 after a decade at the Stockton Record. He covered sports before moving into news in 1996 and became the Local Columnist in 2003. He graduated from University of the Pacific in 1979, majoring in communications and history.
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    On Twitter: @jeffjardine57
    E-mail: jjardine@modbee.com

In New York City, a clock display keeps a running total of the national debt, now a $17.3 trillion moving and upward target.

About 3,000 miles away, in the lobby of Patterson City Hall, a monitor displays different kinds of statistics: Energy generated by the solar panels in a system that went live in October, along with what it means to the public in terms of taxpayer dollars saved.

A similar monitor will be on display in Waterford when that city goes live.

Both of these towns opted to take advantage of an energy-generation, efficiency and cost-savings program offered by Chevron, and their timing couldn’t be better.

The Bee’s J.N. Sbranti reported last weekend that the three-year-long drought could cost irrigation districts more then $20 million in lost hydroelectric generation. So those cities are easing demand for electrical power simply by harnessing the sun.

And Patterson went solar just in time for one of the driest, warmest winters on record – one that included more than 50 days without rain and where daytime temperatures made it into the 70s in January.

These municipalities, along with some area school districts, are using the sun to generate what they project will be savings at a time when education dollars are tougher and tougher to come by.

Patterson’s three solar farms – the largest is at the wastewater treatment plant east of town – are meeting or exceeding projections, City Manager Rod Butler said. The city expects to see $6 million in savings over the next 30 years, he said. Waterford City Manager Tim Ogden said that city should save more than $2.4 million in energy costs over the next 25 years, over and above the financing costs.

“The whole concept is to be less reliant on traditional sources of energy,” Butler said.

The solar power connects to their city halls, wastewater treatment plants and other city facilities, such as community centers.

In both cities, Chevron’s program includes a work force training element in which high school students become paid interns who learn how to perform energy audits for energy projects in homes and businesses, along with curriculum that can be used in the classrooms.

Does it pencil out? Waterford financed its project through a $1.9 million loan at 1 percent interest over 13 years from the California Energy Commission, along with a $600,000 bank loan at 3.5 percent over 14 years, Ogden said. The monthly payments will be made from the savings, and if for whatever reason the panels don’t generate as much as they should, the payments will drop and the terms will be extended by one year.

The city’s plan includes $200,000 in incentives from the Modesto Irrigation District, which will benefit from the state-mandated renewable energy credits generated by Waterford’s system.

Likewise, Patterson benefited from the Turlock Irrigation District’s solar rebate program and vice versa. Waterford, in fact, opted to sign on with Chevron after seeing the program instituted in Patterson.

As part of their programs, the cities also will replace their streetlights with energy-saving LED lighting. Best of all, there’s no money paid upfront by either city. “The project is sustainable, environmentally friendly, and saves the general fund and sewer fund money, all with no money down,” Ogden said.

In Waterford, the wastewater treatment plant burns about 70 percent of the power used by the city. Thus, Odgen said, 70 percent solar generation will benefit that facility.

Similar to home solar installations, the cities’ panels convert energy from the sun and connect to their respective irrigation district’s power systems, which in turn connect to the grid. Much of the year, the solar panels can generate more power during the daytime than city facilities will use. Their meters will, in effect, run backward. During such times, the cities will bank the credit because the utilities are required to buy the excess power from them. At nighttime, when the sun is down and the panels aren’t producing, the cities draw their power from the utility providers. But because city offices close at 5 p.m., city malls and community centers tend to use less power overnight.

So it does pencil out. Indeed, there’s power in numbers and, as the monitors in the city hall lobbies will indicate, numbers in power.

Bee columnist Jeff Jardine can be reached at jjardine@modbee.com or (209) 578-2383. Follow him on Twitter @JeffJardine57.

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