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Atwater invests to learn more on solar field plans

ATWATER -- Though the city budget is tightening up, the council invested more money during Monday's special meeting toward the new waste-water treatment plant solar field.

Council members unanimously passed a resolution that allocates as much as $44,000 for a consultant on the project, according to city documents.

The consultant with whom Atwater contracts will audit the numbers from companies' bids to ensure they make fiscal sense, said Councilman Jeff Rivero.

The move comes amid a budget crunch that has cities and counties throughout California cutting back.

The waste-water plant, which is under construction and expected to be completed in June 2012, will use about twice as much energy as the current plant because of the ultraviolet purification system used to reach stricter drinking water standards, said city engineer Joe Hollstein. The project is about a year ahead of schedule.

Though there are a lot of startup expenditures for the solar project, Rivero, who came up with the idea, thinks it's well worth the initial cost to save money in the long haul.

The solar project could save the city at least $10 million over the first 25 years of use, according to a solar feasibility analysis by Newcomb Anderson and McCormic, a company that specializes in energy engineering and consulting.

"The project would offset about 43.5 percent of the waste-water treatment plant's energy consumption in year one, resulting in both financial and environmental benefits," according to the study, which goes on to say the solar site would have the potential to be expanded.

With the economic slowdown, companies are more willing to strike deals on solar equipment, making it "an opportune time" to go after the project, Rivero said.

The solar energy should help control increasing waste-water treatment rates down the road, said Mayor Pro Tem Joe Rivero.

Savings from the solar field -- among other factors -- could help pay off the waste-water treatment plant bond sooner, he added.

City officials have described the project as the biggest and most expensive endeavor Atwater will undertake.

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

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