RMWD solar projects scheduled for end-of-year completion

By Karen Brainard

By mid to late December, Ramona Municipal Water District (RMWD) should have solar installations completed at the district’s Santa Maria and San Vicente wastewater reclamation plants.

RMWD directors adopted the mitigated negative declaration pursuant to the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) guidelines at their Oct. 11 meeting.

The solar projects are being constructed at no cost to the district through power purchase agreements (PPA) with a special purpose entity formed by Siliken USA, called Kismet Solar LLC. The PPA for each sewer plant is a 20-year agreement in which the water district will purchase all electricity generated by the solar projects at an agreed upon price. After the 20 years, the water district can either purchase the solar installations, extend the agreements or have the solar provider remove the installations.

Alisha Winterswyk, an attorney with Best, Best & Krieger who specializes in CEQA, explained to the board that the study found “a 1.56-acre impact to non-native grasslands” at the Santa Maria site. The mitigation measure is a .5:1 ratio by the preservation of .83-acre of the Hobbs property that contains non-native grasslands, she said. The Hobbs property is part of the Ramona Grasslands Core Reserve.

“The property is part of a mitigation bank,” Winterswyk noted.

RMWD Board President Bryan Wadlington said the district usually has to meet a higher mitigation ratio. To have it only .5:1, he said, “I consider that a bonus.”

Because of the purchase of the mitigation property and some additional costs related to the project, Kismet Solar had to amend its PPA for the Santa Maria site. With $47,982 added, the amount of discount given to the water district over the 20 years is slightly less than originally proposed.

Despite the additional costs and reduced discount, the solar projects should yield a greater savings for the district than originally estimated, according to RMWD Legal Counsel Sopie Akins with Best, Best & Krieger.

The initial savings for the district over the 20 years was estimated to be just over $1.3 million. Akins told the Sentinel RMWD is now estimated to save almost $1.5 million, due to a dip in solar panel pricing.

In addition, RMWD could also benefit from renewable energy credits.

“The district should be able to sell its renewable energy credits,” Akins said.

The water district entered into the solar process in March 2010 by securing a California Solar Initiative rebate with the California Center for Sustainable Energy.

Akins noted that the CEQA process takes the longest period of time and with similar installations taking two years, RMWD is right on track.

“We should have it completed in under two years,” said Akins.

   
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