Benicia, a town in northern California, approved a bond measure on Tuesday that will fund dramatic energy efficiency improvements, retrofitted streetlights and 1.7 megawatts of solar photovoltaic panels on 10 city facilities.
The city council unanimously approved a $13.3 million bond issue to pay for the greening of the small port city.
Benicia is home to about 28,000 residents, but seems a lot larger because of its active port, oil refinery and expansive residential development, said Benicia public works and community development director Charlie Knox.
“This is an amazing project for a city of our size,” Knox said. “It’s a milestone in our move toward being more responsible about our energy use and greenhouse gas emissions.”
The project will not only have a dramatic impact on the city’s environmental stewardship, but also on its budget, Knox said.
Excluding the city’s wastewater treatment facility, which is by far the community’s biggest energy consumer, the new solar panels will produce between a third and 40 percent of the city’s electricity.
“The really amazing thing though,” Knox said, “is that while it’s a third of energy use, it will offset about three quarters of our energy cost.”
He said that because peak demand and energy cost occurs during the day when the solar panels will be generating power, the cost savings will be big.
“That’s extremely helpful during these tight budget times,” Knox said.
In addition to replacing more than 2,000 city streetlights, excluding those in the historic district, installing solar and increasing the energy efficiency of individual facilities, the project will fund future renewable energy endeavors, Knox said.
The program requires that a minimum of $50,000 a year, generated from the cost savings these measures will create, to be funneled back into an energy conservation fund, Knox said.
The money will accrue until there is at least $150,000 available before the city can begin drawing on the money to fund new renewable-energy and energy-efficiency projects.
The $13.3 million bond may exceed the cost of the program, if everything works out the way Knox is hoping.
He said construction bids have been coming in lower than estimated lately, which could safe the city up to $250,000. The city could also save if the oil refinery decides to forgo extra lease fees for the solar equipment that will be installed at the water-pumping system on the refinery property.
Knox said the extra could be used to pay down the balance of the bond. He’s also hopeful that the bond interest rate will be lower than the city council approved so that more than $50,000 can be rolled into the energy conservation fund.
Knox said the community’s next project will be to tackle the wastewater treatment facility, which accounts for about 40 percent of the city’s energy consumption.
“Our city council is extremely focused on trying to do the right thing for the environment and cut down on our greenhouse gas emissions,” Knox said.
Pictured: The Benicia-Martinez Bridge, courtesy of wn.com.