The CSD is in talks with SolarCity to power its water and wastewater plants with solar arrays like this one, installed in McFarland, Kern County. (SolarCity photo)
The Community Services District board voted unanimously last week to enter into negotiations to use solar generation for the CSD’s electricity needs. The potential savings were pegged at $1.6 million over 20 years.
At Wednesday’s board meeting, SolarCity project developer Michael Carpol said he has already developed projects “extremely similar” to what is proposed for the CSD in Gustine, Merced County, and in Newman, Stanislaus County. They are within 100 kilowatts of the size of the CSD plan, he said.
Looking at the two dozen slides in his PowerPoint presentation, which you can see here, Carpol said the bottom line is that “SolarCity’s a very experienced company, and SolarCity’s a very strong company.”
The company has done more than 1,800 commercial and government projects and has grown to more than 11,000 employees, with 200 or 300 of them in Sacramento, he said. He added the company has raised more than $5 billion to finance projects like the CSD’s. SolarCity has been publicly traded since 2012 on the NASDAQ stock exchange.
Carpol’s presentation set the CSD’s potential savings at $1.6 million over a 20-year power purchase agreement. Under the agreement, Solar City would install and maintain two systems on CSD land, with no upfront costs to CSD, and CSD would pay only for the power it consumes -- priced lower than what it pays SMUD at present, Carpol said.
He said CSD is paying SMUD about 10 cents a kilowatt-hour for electricity, and SolarCity would charge between 7 and 8 cents, a price that wouldn’t change over the contract’s 20 years.
“There are two goals with that: One, to save money from Day One, and two, to fix your electricity price,” Carpol said. “Because the utilities, they don’t just tend to rise, they also fluctuate.”
The proposal calls for 1,800 solar panels for the CSD’s wastewater treatment plant, which would produce about 91 percent of the plant's needed energy and offset about 81 percent of the current bill. The array would be west of the CSD Building, on Jackson Road
A separate solar array would power the water treatment plant, handling about 90 percent of its energy needs and about 70 percent of the bill, he said. This array would be adjacent to the plant, near Lake Chesbro.
The CSD’s office power would be handled too.
“This energy agreement isn’t taking you off the grid; it’s just replacing a portion of your costs from SMUD with cheaper energy,” he said. “So you will still have all the reliability of SMUD. It’s actually going to be seamless; you’re not actually going to know whether your electricity’s ... physical electrons are technically coming from the solar array or from the grid.
“At nighttime, for example, when your aerators are still running, our solar system’s clearly not powering that, but it’s going to come from SMUD.”
If the system were to fail, Carpol said SolarCity would pay CSD to cover the additional costs the CSD had to pay because it drew its power from SMUD.
When Director Mike Martel asked if the CSD could share its SolarCity power with other organizations in the community, Carpol said no. He explained that approach, called “virtual net metering” or “remote net metering,” exists in a couple of places in California but not in SMUD territory.
The CSD would need an electrical panel upgrade at the wastewater plant for the solar installation, Carpol said. The current main panel is 600 amps, he said, which is borderline for the project SolarCity envisions. A panel of 800 or 1,000 amps will be needed, he said, and this upgrade, if funded by SolarCity, would force a higher power rate on the CSD to make up the difference.
As for the potential of community growth and greater CSD power needs, Carpol said the system could be expanded.
He encouraged the CSD to act promptly, as tax credits that make the deal viable will expire at the end of 2016. The main panel upgrade will require involvement with SMUD, which works sequentially, moves slowly and could jeopardize the contractual arrangement by delaying completion, he said.
Saying he would “very much like to do this,” Director Paul Gumbinger made the motion to enter into negotiations. The approval was unanimous. Director Mark Pecotich was absent from the meeting.
Any contract negotiated with SolarCity will come back to the board for approval.
Board hires firm to produce development water study
The board unanimously approved hiring Maddaus Water Management to produce a water supply assessment for the North development project, which the Sacramento County Planning Department required. The company will be paid $29,600 by the North developers.
Maddaus Water Management has worked with the CSD for years, including updating its Integrated Water Master Plan.
Lisa A. Maddaus, one of the principals of the company, said the supply assessment is to make sure there will be a 20-year supply of water with proposed future development.
President Jerry Pasek asked Maddaus to make a particular point in the study, echoing something he said in this spring’s CSD water presentations to the community.
“Our water supply is not based on average rainfall or anything like that; it’s how the rain gets here,” he said. “If we get two good storms (in a winter), we’re done. ... And so I’d like to make sure that this particular study kind of addresses the probability of storms that give us enough pumping days to fill the reservoirs to various levels, rather than average rainfall, or climate change associated with average rainfalls, et cetera....
“We could get by with four inches of rain if it came in two storms, two inches each.”
Maddaus seemed reluctant to agree that the requirements of the report could accommodate Pasek’s request.
The CSD’s approach to the study was challenged by members of the Saving Our Lakes & Open Spaces group, which is challenging current development plans for 925 houses on the North.
Cheryl McElhany asked why there was no RFP issued for the contract. General Manager Darlene Gillum said the contract is for professional services, which doesn’t require a RFP, and is being funded by the developers. John Van Doren asked if Maddaus Water Management has provided a conflict of interest disclosure before being allowed to work on this project. Maddaus said her company has done no work with the North developers or any developers in Sacramento County.
Questions persist about security cameras
Director Mike Martel urged the organization to bring developers into the process of deciding where security cameras should be located around the community.
Developer John Sullivan, who was in attendance, asked for some guidance on camera locations before sites on the hotel parcel are paved over. “There are construction decisions that need to get made as we speak,” he said.
Sullivan said the hotel plans call for its own cameras inside the hotel, on the building to oversee the parking lot and the potential of cameras on light standards to oversee the park and the street and Murieta Drive area.
When Director Paul Gumbinger said his understanding was that no CSD cameras would be on private property, Martel explained that CSD cameras wouldn’t be inside anyone’s private property but they might be on private property if it’s an area that Security must patrol.
President Jerry Pasek urged Martel to get together with the developers and get the policy worked out.
Sullivan observed dryly that discussions about the policy are now in their 14th month.
When Director Betty Ferraro asked if she understood Sullivan correctly, that he expected the CSD cameras to be on his property and watching over Murieta Drive, Sullivan said the security impact fee being levied on developers “was agreed to with the proviso that we would be protecting private property and people....”
He said his commercial property, being developed across from Murieta Plaza, is adjacent to Murieta Drive, Murieta Village and Jackson Road -- areas of great interest to Security.
Martel and Sullivan were on the same side of the issue in May, when questions about the camera policy emerged at that month’s board meeting. They criticized Security Chief Greg Remson’s modest plans for camera deployment, which seemed in line with what some other directors wanted.