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Sunny future for city’s energy bill

City enters into a power agreement with local solar contractor
By: Melody Stone Journal staff writer
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Auburn’s wastewater treatment plant will be 100 percent powered by solar energy starting this summer. The city council approved the agreement Monday night between the City of Auburn and Pacific Power Management, LLC, a local solar power contractor. Pacific Power will construct a solar panel field near the wastewater treatment plant, which should be completed early summer, according to Kelly McMahon, vice president of business development for Pacific Power. The 20-year contract allows Pacific Power to build solar panels at the treatment plant, located at 10441 Ophir Road. The city will buy the power from Pacific Power, as if Pacific Power were a utility company. The city won’t pay for the installation of the panels. The city’s power rates will go up at a rate of 3 percent each year. “The 3 percent increase we’re looking for is very very conservative,” McMahon said. Jack Warren, director of public works, said the project will be one of the largest solar facilities in the area and should save the city money. “History shows (PG&E) rates increase by about 4.5 percent a year,” Warren said after the council meeting. “That’s the gamble.” Unless PG&E decides to deviate from history, which Warren calls a “remote possibility,” the city is going to save money. “The first year is guaranteed to be ten percent less than it would be without solar,” Warren added. After 10 years the city has the option of purchasing the panels from Pacific Power for fair market value. McMahon said the fair market value might equal about $3.5 million in 10 years, but an appraisal process would determine that number. McMahon estimated the city would save about $1,351,000 over the next 20 years. “I think we got a really good contract for the city,” Warren said. “I think it was worth everybody’s time and effort to go through the negotiation process.” The council was unanimously in favor of the agreement and thanked staff for their hard work. Councilman Kevin Hanley said he couldn’t see a downside. “I think it’s a triple win for the city,” Hanley said. “The tax payer, the environment and the local contractor.” There were a few other solar companies capable of this project within 20 miles of Auburn. Warren said they chose Pacific Power because of the strength of their proposal and being from Auburn was a bonus. “(Pacific Power) made the best presentation, offered the best rates and the best bang for our buck,” Warren said. “They just happened to be local.” Keeping the state out of the city’s pockets Auburn City Council also took a stand against the state seizures of local funds. Monday night council members voted to place Auburn on the coalition list in support of the Local Taxpayer, Public Safety and Transportation Protection Act of 2010. The taxpayer initiative to stop the state from taking local funds is working its way toward the November ballot. It’s supported by labor, business, housing and transportation groups as well as public safety associations and many California cities. Councilman Mike Holmes called the initiative crucial to the stability of local budgets. “This is quite crucial in my estimate,” Holmes said after the meeting. “Whether it’s general fund revenue or revenue for redevelopment projects, the state has given us a great deal of consternation about what they’re doing to balance their budget and it’s frequently on the backs of cities and counties and special districts.” The staff report said taxpayers repeatedly vote for initiatives to keep local monies funding things like parks, public safety and libraries. However, the state government keeps finding ways to take those funds to balance its budget. “Approval of this ballot initiative would close loopholes and change the constitution to further prevent state politicians in Sacramento from seizing, diverting, shifting, borrowing, transferring, suspending, or otherwise taking local government funds,” the staff report read. Holmes said the most recent instance of state borrowing from Auburn was about $300,000.