The Global View

Water + solar = savings for cash-strapped California utilities

Cash-strapped water utilities in California are turning to solar energy to keep operating in the face of ever-tighter public budgets.

Four new solar-power systems with a total capacity of 3.8 megawatts have recently come online in Santa Clarita, Riverside County and the city of Galt. In every case, the systems — installed by San Jose-based SunPower Corp. — are aimed at lowering water agencies’ electricity bills by generating clean energy in-house.

“Water agencies and facilities typically have huge energy demand and a responsibility to rate-payers to minimize operational costs, and these California facilities are no exception,” said Howard Wenger, regions president of SunPower. To date, his company has installed solar-energy systems at more than 25 water agencies and treatment facilities.

The Rancho California Water District in Riverside County, for example, recently added two new solar installations to generate additional clean electricity: a 1.1-megawatt system at its Senga Doherty Pump Station and a 612-kilowatt solar parking canopy at its headquarters. Together, the new systems are expected to help the agency save $4.3 million in electricity costs over 20 years.

The district already had a 1.1-megawatt system, installed in 2008, at its Santa Rosa Water Reclamation Facility.

SunPower also recently installed a 1-megawatt system at the Castaic Lake Water Agency’s Rio Vista Water Treatment Plant in Santa Clarita, as well as a 983-kilowatt system at the city of Galt’s Wastewater Treatment Plant. Unlike the Riverside County installations, which were paid for by the Rancho California Water District, the Castaic Lake Water Agency system and the Galt system were financed through solar power purchase agreements with SunPower. Under those agreements, SunPower will own, operate and maintain the facilities, and sell the solar energy generated to the water agencies at below-retail rates.