SPG Solar representatives - a global company - addressed board and audience members at the Feb. 6 regular CSD Board meeting, outlining the benefits a solar-powered system offers to the community.
The area up for solar consideration is the No. 2 wastewater plant, Discovery Bay's largest and most expensive plant to operate.
General Manager Virgil Koehne said the impetus for exploring solar power came about because of the exorbitant amount of time, dollars and energy spent in recent years on the replacement of electrical equipment.
"What triggered this is that we are spending a lot of dollars on equipment that we feel is prematurely breaking down, and we think it's the electrical tower from PG&E," said Koehne. "For the past few years I've been experiencing what I call 'dirty power,' meaning PG&E provides 110 volts to our homes, but I use 480 volts for all my sites. I believed I was not getting the correct voltage and amps - sometimes higher, sometimes lower - and it caused my equipment to malfunction and burn out."
Koehne's suspicions were verified by a device that reads the electrical amps. As the potential for collecting damages from PG&E is being explored, so are new energy source alternatives.
SPG Solar offers a program that includes no start-up costs, a lifetime maintenance and service contract, fixed energy rates plus the politically and environmentally correct benefits of going green.
While SPG asks for a 20-year commitment, the CSD would exercise the right to terminate the contract at any time with no penalties or charges. And should solar technology change and become more advanced over the course of the 20 years - as it most likely will - SPG would upgrade the system at a minimal cost to the district.
SPG would make its money on the surplus energy derived from the solar panels. On sunny days, the panels would potentially generate more energy than the wastewater plant would use, and the excess energy would be sold back to PG&E at a presumed profit to SPG.
PG&E rates, according to SPG figures, have continued to increase an average of 6 percent per year since the l970s. By offering a low, fixed rate of 14.4 cents of energy per minute (versus PG&E's current 14.9), the district is guaranteed the same rate over time, and will save millions of dollars over the life of the project. In the first year alone, the district could save as much as $75,000.
CSD Vice-President Dave Dove said that while the solar system project was an
intriguing idea, a closer look is certainly warranted. "This is the first time we've seen anything like this come before the board," said Dove. "And it looks great, but we have to look at the whole project, including what the possible downsides could be."
And what might those drawbacks be?
"Well, I think the pros in this case are obvious," said Koehne. "But we do have to give up three acres of district land (to make room for the panels). However, it is also going to save us over $3 million dollars. We'll continue to explore the options."