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Agency soaking up more rays to save $8.8 million

Castaic Lake Water expands its solar field by four times to cover 20 acres with panels

Posted: January 29, 2013 2:00 a.m.
Updated: January 29, 2013 2:00 a.m.

Jeff Ford, principal water resources planner for the Castaic Lake Water Agency, discusses a solar panel array near the Rio Vista Water Treatment Plant in Saugus on Monday. (Jonathan Pobre/The Signal)

The agency that provides wholesale water to the Santa Clarita Valley is planting a new crop of solar panels behind its showcase gardens. And that field of panels is forecast to save more than $8.8 million in energy costs over the next quarter century.

In the hills overlooking Central Park on Bouquet Canyon Road — that stretch and north and east from the Rio Vista Water Treatment Plant — a field of solar panels four times the size of the Castaic Lake Water Agency’s existing solar field is expected to be built.

Last week, the agency’s board of directors scrutinized aerial photographs of its back lot and listened to experts crunch numbers and explain colored charts for the plan to save $8,856,732 in the next 25 years.

20 acres

Two years ago, the agency turned five acres behind its Rio Vista Water Treatment Plant into a field of energy-saving solar panels that generated a full megawatt and powered both its plant and its offices.

It jumped on a chance to reduce its water costs when it capitalized on subsidies offered under the California Solar Initiative.

In September, the agency’s board saw another chance to save even more money through a similar piece of subsidy legislation — the Local Government Renewable Energy Self-Generation Bill Credit Transfer.

Again, board members jumped on it.

They instructed agency staffers to put together a plan that would generate three times the power kicked out by the first solar field, using a lot quadruple its size.

On Wednesday, staffers unveiled the plan to install solar panels on 19.5 acres that would generate 3.5 megawatts of subsidized power.

The 20-acre solar field would be contained within the agency’s boundaries on the hills overlooking Newhall Ranch Road to the south.

The project would involve “grubbing” and grading of those hills to provide a relatively level site for the panels.

The agency is expected to fence off the whole area for security reasons.

And, when it’s all built and the switch is turned on, the Upper Mesa Solar Power Generation Project will begin reducing energy costs for the agency.

The project would generate electricity that would be metered on-site and, as such, there is no transmission or storage aspect of the project that could be subject to the zoning requirements by either county or the city.

Cost saving

The agency’s board passed a resolution adopting an environmental assessment, called a negative declaration, and giving the agency’s general manager the authority to hammer out a Power Purchase Agreement and a Site Lease Agreement.

Agency staffers received no comments of opposition to the project according to the expectations of the California Environmental Quality Act, said Jeff Ford, the agency’s principal water resources planner.

“For the CEQA determination, staff prepared an in-house draft initial study of negative declaration and we received not a single comment letter,” Ford said.

“The document was circulated for public review throughout December and no comments were received.”

Likewise, no comments were heard from the public about the project at Thursday’s meeting. And, aside from a request by director R.J. Kelly to further explain the project’s cost-savings, there was no real discussion by board members.

Staffers recommended in their presentation to the board that the terms of the power purchase agreement be negotiated with a starting price of just over 1 cent for every kilowatt hour consumed and an escalation factor of 2 percent a year.

Over time, estimating a conservative 4 percent rise in utility rates, the project would save close to $10,000 the first year and more than $8.8 million at the end of the agreement’s 25-year limit.

The company contracted for the project is the SunPower Corporation.

SunPower, with offices in Richmond, Roseville and Irvine in California, was selected by agency board members to build its first five-acre solar field and, in 2011, to propose, then build, a utility-scale electricity-generating project at the Devil’s Den site.

Using subsidies

Devil’s Den is about 130 miles north of Santa Clarita, just north and west of where Interstate 5 crosses the Paso Robles Highway.

Solar plans for Devil’s Den were “mothballed” in November when market factors made the project less attractive to pursue, said agency General Manager Dan Masnada.

“Other projects proved superior from a power-generating standpoint,” Masnada said.

Unlike its first five-acre solar field or the 20-acre project approved Wednesday, the agency was unable to exploit any subsidy available to transform Devil’s Den.

Before the Local Government Renewable Energy Self-Generation Bill Credit Transfer legislation was passed, the agency went after state subsidies only if there was a direct connection between the power source and the user.

With the latest legislation offering “bill credits,” the power source — in this case 19.5 acres of photovoltaic solar panels — does not have to be directly connected to the agency’s 44 meters using that power across the Santa Clarita Valley.


On Twitter @jamesarthurholt


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