H-SANTA BARBARA COUNTY

May 25, 2011 9:52 PM by Ariel Wesler

Living Green: County wastewater plant installing thousands of solar panels

In tonight's Living Green, one of the largest solar projects in Santa Barbara County is getting underway next month on the outskirts of Santa Maria.

The Laguna County Sanitation District has contracted with premier power to install more than 4,000 solar panels on four acres adjacent to the wastewater treatment plant west of Black Road. The plant serves around 35,000 people in the Orcutt area.

The end result will look something like this solar project in sacramento. Santa Barbara County leaders say the 4,000 solar panels from Premier solar will mean big savings.

"The solar project is going to basically pay for 60 percent of the energy that we're going to use at Laguna Sanitation, so that can be huge for the ratepayers," said Joni Gray, Santa Barbara County 4th District Supervisor.

The wastewater treatment plant is one of the largest energy consumers in the county with an annual electric bill of around $400,000. District Manager Martin Wilder says he expects to slash that bill by 80 percent.

"Rates go up over time, so we're basically going to generate our own power, stabilize our rates, and keep it at a set point," Wilder said. "It won't cost our ratepayers anymore than they're already paying for electricity."

But the plant, built in 1959, is in dire need of repairs and equipment upgrades.

"We may see a bit of a hike in the Laguna Sanitation fees, but we'll also see a bit of a decrease because of the energy," Gray said.

The project costs about $4 million, but the county is also getting a $1.7 million dollar green rebate from PG&E over the next five years.

"We reduce our dependency on grid, become self-sufficient, in a green way," Wilder said.

The solar panels are expected to be up and running in September. The county estimates the solar savings will amount to around $14 million over the 30 year life of the system.

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