By Kristin Withrow, Communications Specialist
Photo caption: McKinleyville CSD microgrid groundbreaking ceremony in May 2022. Left to right: Director John Corbett, Supervisor Steve Madrone, Board President David Couch, Director Scott Binder, Director Greg Orsini, Director Dennis Mayo.
The Pacific northwest is home to magnificent beaches, towering redwoods bordered by the Pacific ocean, and a coastal range of mountains. The McKinleyville Community Services District is the unincorporated community’s primary services structure, along with Humboldt County offices. Established on a bluff overlooking the Pacific in 1970, the independent special district has been the provider of water, streetlights, parks and recreation and the community center for the nearly 17,000 residents in the area. In addition, the district maintains open spaces and operates a state-of-the-art wastewater treatment facility which was upgraded in 2017.
California’s push toward renewable, non-carbon energy use has spurred an increase in funding options and opportunities for special districts across the state. In 2019, McKinleyville Community Services District found themselves on the receiving end of a $2.5 million grant and a $2.5 million low interest loan from the State Water Resources Control Board’s Energy Efficiency Grant Program.
“The only way we were able to make this plan work was through this grant and low interest loan program,” said Pat Kaspari, the district’s general manager. “Unfortunately, that grant program is not currently active, but we are a good case for the State Water Resources Control Board to continue that Energy Efficiency program because we would not have been able to implement this project without those funds.”
With an eye toward fiscal responsibility, cost management and the potential for PG&E Public Safety Power Shutoff (PSPS) events, the district took the opportunity to increase self-sufficiency while reducing the risks associated with a loss of power to its wastewater treatment facility. They selected Ameresco, an engineering firm from Massachusetts, to provide the facility with a solar microgrid system that would enable them to maintain operations during PSPS events and reduce their electricity costs of operation.
The system includes a 580 kW solar array with a 500-kW battery storage system that can produce 1,340-kWh in a single discharge, coupled with an existing diesel generator. An average estimated savings of $10,000 per month is expected from the microgrid.
For additional self-sufficiency and savings, the district worked with Tesla to install a battery energy storage system at one of their water pumping stations and a wastewater lift station. Tesla waived the installation fees for the district and PG&E provided grant money to offset additional costs. The battery systems will allow the district to discontinue use of diesel generators in a power interruption and allow critical water and wastewater pumping to continue uninterrupted for more than a day. In addition, the batteries can be charged during lower cost, off-peak hours to then reduce power intake during higher-cost peak usage hours, thereby saving the district electricity costs of around $30,000 annually.
Changes from traditional carbon-based fuel usage with generator backups to renewable energy sources that allow districts to use flexible energy in peak usage, or maintain uninterrupted operations during power losses, are becoming more widely instituted throughout the state. CSDA recognizes the pioneering spirit of independent special districts who are leveraging opportunities to upgrade infrastructure and find cost savings in non-traditional ways.
If your district has a renewable energy project coming online in 2023 that you’d like to share with us, please contact us at email@example.com.