Monday, February 19 , 2018, 8:44 pm | Fair 48º


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Santa Barbara Explores Renewable Energy Options for Desalination Plant

Crews install equipment for Santa Barbara’s Charles E. Meyer Desalination Plant, which is expected to use 13.8 million kilowatt-hours per year of energy during operations.
Crews install equipment for Santa Barbara’s Charles E. Meyer Desalination Plant, which is expected to use 13.8 million kilowatt-hours per year of energy during operations.  (City of Santa Barbara photo)

When it comes online in a few months’ time, Santa Barbara’s Charles E. Meyer Desalination Plant will become a critical source of potable water for a city grappling with worsening drought conditions.

Such a facility, however, requires a considerable amount of power to turn seawater into potable water, and operating it will produce greenhouse gases.

In order to offset the new GHGs and cover the projected 3-megawatt increase to Santa Barbara’s energy demand, the city is exploring options for powering the plant with renewable energy.

Pumping water is one of the most intensive uses of energy in the state, and the desalination plant is expected to use about 13.8 million kilowatt-hours of energy per year, city facilities and energy manager Jim Dewey told the City Council at its meeting Tuesday.

The facility, located at 525 E. Yanonali St., is expected to produce some 3 million gallons of water every day, accounting for about a third of the city’s potable water supply.

The plant’s exact electricity usage will be determined, Dewey said, after roughly six months of establishing its operating procedures.

One option is to use photovoltaic systems to harness the sun in powering both the desalination plant and the El Estero Wastewater Treatment Plant next door.

To power the desalination facility, a 167-kilowatt array could be set up at the nearby City Annex Yard, Dewey said. A 470-kilowatt array could also be set up at El Estero.

Another 400-kilowatt option would come out of enhancing the El Estero facility that puts fats, oil and grease through an anaerobic digester, turning it into methane used to generate electricity.

Food scraps, Dewey said, could be added to the mix to boost electricity output.

All three would be funded through power purchase agreements, he said.

Another option the city has is community choice aggregation, where cities and counties can aggregate the demand of their energy customers when negotiating renewable energy contracts with energy providers.

The CCA would be a local public agency, and individual customers can opt out.

Dewey said that the city is working with the county on a feasibility study for the establishment of CCA.

Also on the table are renewable energy credits, which are tradable credits that represent electricity generated from renewable sources.

Once acquired, the equivalent amount of green energy is routed to the power lines that the credit-holder shares with the surrounding area.

The desalination facility was built almost 30 years ago and the City Council voted in 2015 to reactivate it. Construction is underway and the plant is scheduled to begin producing water in February or March of next year.

The project, which had a contract completion date was Oct. 4, has already seen significant delays, like the discovery of contaminated soil at the facility site.

Santa Barbara is looking into the costs of expanding the capacity of the 3,125-acre-feet-per-year plant and may start that process soon after the facility starts production.

Expansion is partially motivated by a water sales agreement in the works with the Montecito Water District.

Noozhawk staff writer Sam Goldman can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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