Santa Maria expects to save $12 million with solar agreement

Santa Maria stepped toward clean energy and dollars saved as the City Council voted 4-0 (with Councilmember Maribel Aguilera-Hernandez absent) to approve a 20-year contract to construct and operate solar power infrastructure at eight city-owned sites—generating expected savings of more than $12 million throughout the contract’s lifespan. 

click to enlarge Santa Maria expects to save $12 million with solar agreement
File photo courtesy of Ryan Burks
COST EFFICIENT TRANSITION: The Santa Maria City Council voted to approve a 20-year contract that will construct and operate solar power at eight city-owned sites and save the city an estimated $139,000 in its first year.

The wastewater treatment plant, civic center, police department, transit yard, Paul Nelson Aquatic Center, James Hagerman Sports Center, Minami Park, and City Well No. 12 will receive new solar infrastructure to create 4,417 kilowatts of solar power across all eight sites, saving the city an estimated $139,679 in first-year utility bills, Public Works Director Brett Fulgoni told the City Council during its Nov. 7 meeting.

“Our rate will not change for 20 years, it will be a 0 percent escalation, and we assume we’ll save $12.6 million in over 20 years,” Fulgoni said.

The city accomplished this by entering into a 20-year power purchase agreement with ForeFront Power for solar panel construction and the School Project for Utility Rate Reduction (SPURR) for solar power. SPURR is a joint powers authority that offers a Renewable Energy Aggregated Procurement (REAP) program that helps entities purchase and install solar energy equipment and get affordable rates to offset energy costs, according to the staff report.

Each solar project at individual sites will be approved and budgeted by the City Council, but the city isn’t obligated to spend dollars for items under the agreement—which include a 20-year fixed energy rate, lifetime system operations, and maintenance to the infrastructure. The city will also have no upfront costs, according to the staff report. 

ForeFront Power also typically hires 50 percent local contractors for its projects and this agreement also includes a commitment to hire at least 30 percent of all construction hours from targeted workers in Santa Maria’s disadvantaged communities.

“The system is designed to have a 20-year lifespan. … ForeF

ront will need to remove all that, we won’t have any obligation to demolish anything, that’s one of the benefits of the power purchase agreement,” Fulgoni added. 

The REAP program has been used by 38 agencies across California, and Fulgoni added that he called a few of these entities for references—including the Santa Maria Airport, Allan Hancock College, SLO County, Fresno County, and the cities of Ventura and Fresno, and he received positive feedback from all parties. 

While Councilmember Mike Cordero was concerned with what happens after the 20-year contract is up, he said he was supportive of the city taking steps toward alternative energy. 

“I think these kinds of things are going to ultimately be very smart decisions we make to get involved with these kinds of endeavors in the foreseeable future,” Cordero said during the meeting. “We have to; that’s the way America is going and that’s the way the world is going. I appreciate everyone’s efforts to get involved a little more. It will be paid back in spades I believe.”

The Santa Maria Valley Chamber of Commerce, along with the Santa Barbara County EconAlliance; the Coalition of Labor, Agriculture and Business of Santa Barbara County; and the Santa Barbara County Taxpayers Association wrote a public comment letter to support the solar power project because of the anticipated cost savings. 

“The city is always challenged on their budget and how to stretch taxpayer dollars, and if there’s an option for the city to power [its] buildings for less cost, then that’s a win for the community,” chamber President and CEO Glenn Morris told the Sun. “I do think it’s helpful when the city demonstrates leadership, and if they’re successful then others will have more confidence [in] looking at that option themselves.”

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