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Santa Maria is pursuing a variety of energy-efficiency projects, including installing new lighting at city parks and building an array of solar panels in the eastern part of the city, that could save the city over $1 million annually. 

The projects are the result of a partnership with Pacific Gas and Electric Co. Sustainable Solutions Turnkey Program. 

In the course of the program, which Santa Maria began in 2017, the city identified a variety of potential projects, including replacing heating, ventilation and air-conditioning units at city facilities, retrofitting lighting at city parks, installing artificial turf at Atkinson Park and upgrading the landfill flare. 

On Tuesday, the City Council voted unanimously to move forward with the first batch of projects, which includes heating, ventilation and air-conditioning replacements, a solar array at the landfill and new lighting at several city parks. 

The first projects are expected to cost around $30 million. 

The upgrades will be financed with borrowed money, and the energy savings and new revenues will be used to pay back the debt, Assistant City Manager Patrick Wiemiller said. 

Wiemiller said the city had selected an outside financial adviser to analyze the cost and revenue projections for the upgrades to ensure they pay for themselves with savings.

Once details regarding funding have been negotiated with PG&E, the financing packages will come before the City Council for approval. 

The projects were identified in an audit the City Council approved for funding in late 2018. The cost of the audit was $528,000. 

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Improvements planned for the city’s parks are adding new lighting at the Crossroads and Adam basins and Oakley Park; replacing existing lighting at the Fletcher Skate Park, Hagerman Sports Complex and Marramonte, Simas, Atkinson and Minami parks; and installing artificial turf at Atkinson Park.  

Recreation and Parks Department Director Alex Posada said energy-efficient lighting is a way to create more recreation opportunities for the city’s youth by increasing the time existing fields are available at parks that currently lack lighting. 

“As you know, we’ve tried to build fields in spaces and the money just isn’t there,” he said. “Certainly, we don’t plan not to proceed with a sports complex or a soccer complex down the road, but this would give us an immediate remedy to the public concerns that we’ve heard.” 

City facilities hold 114 heating and cooling units. Of those, 50 will be replaced with newer, more efficient models, said Public Works Director Kevin McCune. 

McCune said some of the units were installed more than 30 years ago. 

“A mechanical system that’s been around for 30 years, that was manufactured in the '80s, is not efficient and, frankly, on its last legs,” he said. 

In addition to financial savings, the projects are expected to reduce carbon emissions by 125,000 tons over 25 years, or the equivalent of removing 1,000 cars from the road, Wiemiller said. 

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Razi Syed covers Santa Maria City Government for Lee Central Coast Newspapers.  Follow him on Twitter @razisyed

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City Government

Razi Syed covers city government for the Santa Maria Times. He is a graduate of Fresno State University and New York University.