RMWD OKs fee to reserve solar rebate
After many questions, much discussion and some hesitation, Ramona Municipal Water District directors approved paying $25,000 to reserve a solar rebate from the California Center for Sustainable Energy. The fee is refundable after the solar project is completed.
“Unfortunately, in my view, this is the way our culture and the world are going,” Director George Boggs said of the proposed solar power system. “I have a lot of reservations about the economics of it.”
RMWD Legal Counsel Sophie Akins had asked board members to consider reserving the rebate, known as the California Solar Initiative (CSI), because the rebate amounts are decreasing.
Akins explained that the CSI rates are established over 10 steps, with Step 1 being the highest rebate amount and the steps decreasing as more applicants apply for and reserve the rebate money. Akins told the board that the rebates were at step 6 but could be at step 7 within two weeks. The rebate amount would then drop from about $1.5 million to $1.1 million, she said.
Sequoia Solar had approached the district about entering into a power purchase agreement (PPA) for proposed solar projects at the San Vicente Wastewater Reclamation Plant and the Santa Maria Sewer Service Area. Under a PPA, a private company, known as the power provider, would construct a solar project on property owned by the water district at the power provider’s sole cost. In exchange, the water district would agree to purchase all electricity generated by the solar project for the length of the PPA at an agreed upon price. The price paid would be less than the amount paid to San Diego Gas and Electric (SDG&E).
One of the proposed locations of solar at the Santa Maria service area, which is adjacent to the Ramona Grasslands, caused members to weigh the savings of energy costs versus fees imposed by the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) to conduct their required environmental studies at the site.
“I’m concerned about the environmental requirements and the costs to our district,” said Director Darrell Beck, listing previous surveys that revealed the habitats of the endangered Stephens’ kangaroo rat and the arroyo toad.
Beck questioned the costs if the district had to find land to mitigate the endangered species to install the solar project.
Akins said that the CEQA consultant estimated the environmental studies at the Santa Maria site to cost between $26,000 and $38,000.
“With this type of project, it’s pretty normal to have CEQA costs wrapped up into a PPA cost,” Akins said.
The power provider could reimburse the district for the CEQA fees and then add them to the PPA, she said.
With board members mentioning other environmental issues that could cause problems at the Santa Maria site, such as reflections from the solar panels bothering airplanes flying into Ramona Airport, or archeological finds, Akins said that, if CEQA found an issue that would require substantial costs, the water district could walk away from the solar project.
Boggs suggested the board receive weekly or biweekly progress reports.
“If CEQA comes up with something and, believe me, they will out here,” he said he would rather be able to “pull the plug” instead of incurring additional costs.
The solar power project would be exempt from the county permitting process.
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