West County Wastewater District Taps into Solar Power

West County Wastewater District, Solar Power Partners, Inc., and Premier Power Renewable Energy jointly announced on Feb. 18 the completion of a solar energy system designed to replace 35 percent of the district's annual electricity usage with clean, renewable solar energy at zero out-of-pocket costs.

Solar Power Partners, which owns and operates the solar equipment, set up a power purchase agreement (PPA) with the district. The agreement enables the district to buy the electricity at a contractually fixed rate (essential in its budgeting process), helping it to manage its operating costs, and keep billings as low as possible for its ratepayers.

In addition, the installation, designed and installed by Premier Power, represents the largest dual-axis, sun-tracking solar power project in the United States. Premier Power located 89 dual-axis trackers, manufactured by ET Solar, across the district's Richmond treatment facility site, including 28 trackers that rise above the potential high-water line of a stormwater storage pond. Premier Power built all of the tracking towers to withstand flooding and submersion while meeting all seismic restrictions and solving soil engineering challenges.

"The West County Wastewater District is a great example of a public entity acting as an environmental steward in its daily operations. Their strong environmental record is now enhanced by their use of clean renewable power to power the plant," said Alex von Welczeck, president and chief executive officer, Solar Power Partners. "This project is also a perfect example of where a municipal entity can join hands with the private sector to deploy solar at no cost to the ratepayers."

E.J. Shalaby, general manager at the district added, "In terms of using renewable energy to help run our treatment plants, there is no debate. One of our main tasks is to promote environmental responsibility and compliance. As a public agency, however, the upfront costs for purchasing a solar energy system were high and difficult to justify since we could not take advantage of federal tax credits. When SPP approached us with an option to lock in the price for 35 percent of our electricity usage, using a PPA and renewable energy generated on site, it made perfect sense.

"Although the original design turned out to be more challenging than expected, due to the nature of the soils on our site, SPP helped find an alternative solution, Shalaby explained."SPP engaged Premier Power who brought in a completely new technology, dual-axis trackers. The solar panels follow the sun, increasing the system's efficiency by up to 35 percent compared to a similar-sized system mounted in a fixed position. The solution is elegant, and the PPA structure is helping us keep costs down for our ratepayers."

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