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Desert district looks to the sun for energy savings

When the sprawling Indian Wells Valley Water District in eastern Kern County needed to control customer water rates and its energy costs, it looked to the sun and partnered with ENGIE Services U.S.

With its mission to “deliver the highest-quality water at the best possible price while continuing to serve as respectful stewards of the environment,” the high desert district was struggling to take swift action to hedge against rising customer costs and insure sustainable resources in the face of California’s historic drought.

Formed in 1955, the district encompasses an area of approximately 37 square miles and serves about 30,000 residential and commercial customers in the region that includes the city of Ridgecrest, as well as small portions of San Bernardino County.

In a news release, General Manager Don Zdeba said the Indian Wells Valley Water District had been exploring the feasibility of using solar energy to meet its goals and turned to ENGIE Services U.S. to help develop and implement a plan, which also included a comprehensive energy-efficiency component.

The district also used Bakersfield-based Mission Bank, which has a business banking center in Ridgecrest, to finance the project.

“We already maintain accounts at Mission Bank, so when it came time to finance our $8 million solar project, we were pleased Mission Bank contacted us,” Zdeba said. “When possible, my board of directors has made it clear they prefer to support local businesses. So as long as the financing from Mission Bank was competitive, it was our desire to work with local individuals that we know and have a working relationship with.”

Ground was broken in October 2016 on the solar and energy conservation program, which is expected to achieve $9.38 million in net savings over the 30-year program life. The solar system is expected to reduce carbon emissions equivalent to removing 574 cars from highways annually.

The program includes the installation of a series of 2.08-megawatt solar photovoltaic projects across five water-well sites and the district administrative office in Ridgecrest. The solar systems at the water well sites are ground-mounted, fixed-tilt solar PV systems to allow for optimal energy capturing. At the administrative office, ENGIE Services U.S. constructed a solar carport system, which generates energy, while providing much-needed shade for cars parked in the hot desert sun.

To enhance building efficiency and occupant comfort inside of district facilities, LED lighting was installed and aging HVAC units were replaced. In addition to improving temperature control and the quality of lighting in facilities, these upgrades contribute to hedging against rising energy costs from year to year.

To offset upfront costs of the ambitious program, the Indian Wells Valley Water District is taking advantage of the Renewable Energy Self-Generation Bill Credit Transfer Program, which allows local government entities with eligible renewable generating facilities to send energy to the grid and receive generation credits for other benefiting accounts within the district.

According to OpENGIE Services U.S., this program will give the district greater control and flexibility over the amount of credit to be allocated each year to each site, which is useful because of fluctuating energy demands from site to site. Other sites throughout the district will utilize net energy metering, which allows the district to receive full compensation from Southern California Edison for all the electricity generated by the solar projects at any time.

Maureen Buscher-Dang is a Bakersfield public relations consultant.

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