Going solar in Mack Town

Jack Durham
Mad River Union

McKINLEYVILLE – A giant solar array at the town’s sewer plant could save taxpayers millions of dollars over the next quarter century.

That’s what members of the McKinleyville Community Services District Board of Directors were told Nov. 5 during a presentation by two salesmen from Beutler Solar, a private company that is trying to sell the district a solar power system.

According to the company, the district could save from $3.8 million to $5.2 million over 25 years depending on how the project is financed. The solar panel installation would cost about $2.2 million and take up one and a half acres at the sewer plant, located at Hiller Park on the west side of McKinleyville.

The 497kW solar system would be mounted on racks anchored to the ground. It would produce 68 percent of the electricity used at the sewer plant, with Pacific Gas & Electric providing 32 percent of the power. The district’s current electrical bill for the sewer plant is $173,000 a year.

The key to the entire project is what’s called net energy metering. When the sun is shining and the solar panels are producing electricity, the PG&E meter would run backwards, sending more power to the utility company than is being used by the MCSD. During these daytime hours, PG&E rates are higher, so the MCSD would receive more credit for the power it produces compared to the amount of money it spends on power at night.

Last week’s presentation by Beutler Solar was the second one given to the board, but not the last. Although the MCSD directors have not committed to the project, they voiced support for the general idea and asked district staff to work with Beutler Solar, crunch more numbers and come back to the board in January.

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