In an effort to explore energy-efficiency projects the city estimates could save over $1 million a year, the Santa Maria City Council voted to enter into a contract for an in-depth audit of 16 potential projects that include cogeneration plants at the wastewater treatment plant and landfill, an array of solar panels in northeast Santa Maria and lighting retrofits at city buildings.
The audit, which is part of Pacific Gas & Electric’s Sustainable Solutions Turnkey Program, is the third phase of an exploration of energy-efficiency projects the city began in 2017 and will look at 16 previously identified projects. City officials estimate that the projects could save at least $1 million each year in General Fund expenses.
The program consists of four phases: a feasibility discussion, a preliminary energy assessment, an investment grade audit and then financing and implementation.
The first two phases were completed by April 2018 with no cost to the city, aside from staff time. The cost to the city for the audit will be up to $528,000.
The City Council voted 3-0 to move forward with the audit during its Nov. 20 meeting. Councilmembers Etta Waterfield and Jack Boysen were absent.
In 2017, the city first put out a request for qualifications and ultimately selected PG&E’s Sustainable Solutions Turkey Program. PG&E selected Michael K. Nunley & Associates to partner with it in preparing the city’s assessment. That year the city spent over $2.4 million on electricity, said Patrick Wiemiller, assistant city manager.
The program’s preliminary energy assessment was completed earlier this year and identified 16 potential projects, which included construction of cogeneration plants at the wastewater treatment plant and landfill; a solar-energy system near Donovan Road and Suey Crossing; lighting retrofits in city buildings, parking structures and recreation facilities; swimming pool covers; HVAC upgrades; and irrigation controls.
PG&E estimates the cost of all 16 projects would total $31.7 million.
Wiemiller said the expected economic benefits to the city include a $1 million annual reduction of General Fund expenses, along with generating $3.5 million annually in new revenue from renewable energy sources.
After the audit is complete, the City Council will vote on whether or not to proceed with any of the infrastructure upgrades. Should the city go ahead with implementing the projects, the savings could be used to pay the debt service payments, Wiemiller said.
“A simple blended payback period across all projects that we identified, of those 16, is estimated at less than six and a half years,” Wiemiller said. “The savings would cover debt payments and be cash flow positive for the entire financing period.”
There would be an estimated $1.8 million positive cash flow in the first year of post-project operations, Wiemiller said. “It’s estimated over the life of the project to have a cumulative cash flow positive impact to the city of $31 million.”
Dave Cross, program manager of the Santa Maria Valley Chamber of Commerce’s Energy Watch Partnership, said he applauded the council for exploring energy-efficiency projects.
“On behalf of the Chamber of Commerce and Energy Watch Partnership, we urge your support and approval to proceed, and we’re here to help in any way we can,” he said.