Inland Empire Saves $500,000 in Annual Energy Costs with SunPower® Solar

SunPower's solar tracking technology is modular, and goes in very quickly:In August we had dirt fields, and by October we had 7.5 acres of trackers installed, following the sun.

– Patrick Sheilds, Executive Manager of Operations, Inland Empire Utilities Agency

The Inland Empire Utilities Agency (IEUA) is a regional waste water service provider and distributor of wholesale water and recycled water for 850,000 Southern California residents in a 242-mile square area in southwest San Bernardino County. At the leading edge of environmentally-friendly business practices, the IEUA produces renewable energy from methane gas from its waste water treatment facilities, has partnered with the Los Angeles County Sanitation district to construct the largest indoor composting facility in the U.S., and in 2004 received the nation’s first Platinum Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design(LEED) Award from the U.S. Green Building Council for the design of a public building. Now, the IEUA has added the ultimate in renewable energy production:3.5 megawatts of clean solar power, being generated by SunPower solar panels and trackers at four treatment plant facilities. While stabilizing the Agency’s energy costs, the combined systems are expected to help the IEUA fulfill its goal to power100 percent of its operations with renewable energy resources by 2020.

Incentives Make Solar Attractive

As a leader in delivering an environmentally responsible water supply and waste water treatment for California’s San Bernardino County residents, the IEUA keeps careful watch over its own energy usage and operational expenses. So when federal and state financial incentives for solar power production were announced in 2007, the agency took notice.But there was a major stipulation: in order for the IEUA to benefit from federal incentives including a 30 percent investment tax credit and an accelerated depreciation schedule, in addition to significant performance-based incentives then available through the California Solar Initiative (CSI), the solar power system had to be installed and operating by the end of 2008. The agency knew it wanted to build a major solar power system on multiple sites,so the pressure was on to meet the December 2008 deadline.

SunPower Selected As a Partner

In July 2007, after speaking with other agencies that had implemented solar, Patrick Sheilds, Executive Manager of Operations at IEUA and his team requested that a feasibility study be conducted, to determine whether a solar installation would be appropriate for their sites, and would pencil out financially. The good news: Through a combination of high-efficiency solar technologies the agency would be able to generate over 10%percent of its energy from the sun while reducing costs. With the blessing of the IEUA’s board of directors, Sheilds solicited bids via RFP from six solar providers. SunPower was ultimately selected to work with the agency in April 2008, primarily based on its reputation in meeting customer expectations in complex large-scale solar project implementations,and ability to offer the highest efficiency solar technology available today, including the panels. "We had a high level of confidence that SunPower brought the depth of experience and turnkey solutions needed to make the whole thing happen," Sheilds notes.

Benefits For All

SunPower also brought a compelling financing strategy to the table: a SunPower Power Purchase Agreement (PPA) that would provide the IEUA with financing for the project through one of the company's top tier financing partners. Under the PPA, financier Morgan Stanley owns and operates the solar power system and sells the electricity to the IEUA at a rate that is competitive with SCE utility rates. In addition to delivering immediate savings on electricity costs, this strategy would require no capital expenditure. It would act as a hedge against rising electricity costs, locking in guaranteed savings over the long term. Sheilds says he was greatly impressed by the speed of the SunPower installation. "From the time we said 'go,' it was only six months until everything was in place," he says. "Plus, the PPA was convenient clean, and once in place, everyone’s roles and responsibilities were clear." Most importantly, Sheilds reports that with the addition of the IEUA’s solar power solution, the agency can now produce nearly half of its electricity from alternative energy sources, and reduce its energy bills by up to a half-million dollars annually – just based on their solar power. However, "Our future strategy is to reduce reliance on the electric grid through maximizing renewable energy to be completely off-grid," Sheilds says. "This is just one more step in meeting our goals to create a more sustainable community for us all."

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Project Overview
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Locations:    Chino, CA
Completed:    December 2008
Installation Type:    Commercial Roof and Ground Systems
System Size:    3,500kWac (or 3,918kWp)
Number of Panels:    18,210

Subhead: 
Benefits
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  • Offsets over 10% of the District’s total electricity demand
  • Delivers savings of approximately $500,000 in annual electricity costs
  • Provides significant hedge against future rate increases from SCE
  • Reduces carbon emissions by over 230 million pounds over the next 30 years, which is equivalent to powering 18,350 homes, or removing more than 19,000 cars from our roads
  • Contributes to IEUA’s increasing commitment to sustainability and environmental practices