July 31, 2011 - From the July, 2011 issue

Solar Leader-Pasadena Water & Power- Unveils New Installation at Windsor Reservoir

In 2006, the city of Pasadena adopted its Green City Action Plan, with the notable support of the city's municipally owned utility, Pasadena Water and Power (PWP). Five years later, the city is a national leader in installed solar capacity per customer-a success thanks in no small part to the efforts of PWP Solar Program Director Mauricio Mejia, who gave TPR the following exclusive interview following the debut of the Windsor Reservoir solar project in June.


Mauricio Mejia

What are the Pasadena Department of Water and Power's (PWP) goals with regard to greening its power and water systems?

In short, the city of Pasadena has several environmental goals, and the power division tries as much as possible to support the city's goals. PWP is a publicly owned utility and also a department of the city, so we have to comply with regulations and goals from the state and our City Council. In general, PWP's goals align with the city's environmental goals to increase its renewable portfolio standard (RPS), renewable energy, and energy efficiency.

What input did your department have in crafting Pasadena's Green Action Plan?

I participated in the inter-departmental "Green Team" that drafted the Green City Action plan. The Green City Action Plan has 21 action items addressing seven environmental themes. I mainly get involved in the three action items related to energy-renewable energy, energy efficiency, and climate change. The plan also covers other areas, such as water, waste reduction, urban design, urban nature, transportation, and environmental health. I'm proud of my participation in the adoption of the United Nations Urban Environmental Accords and drafting the Green City Action Plan in 2006.

What are PWP's goals for incenting the installation of more solar?

Pasadena Water and Power has been providing solar incentives to our customers for more than ten years. In 2007, Governor Schwarzenegger's passed Senate Bill 1 and established a goal to install 3,000 megawatts of customer-owned solar in California. The Pasadena Solar Initiative (PSI) program officially started on January 1, 2008, with the goal of installing 14 megawatts of solar in Pasadena. We recently passed the three megawatt mark, so we are right on track of our goal.

Can you elaborate on the Windsor Reservoir project in northwest Pasadena, as well as the Spear Point Energy Green Lake Capital partnership?

As of today, we have more than 300 solar installations in Pasadena. Prior to the Windsor project, we had only two small solar installations on city-owned facilities. The Lake Avenue Station is unique as it has Building-Integrated Photovoltaic (BIPV) custom-made solar modules covering the roof of the bus shelters at the Gold Line Metro rail station.

With the price of modules going down in recent years, PWP realized it would be economically feasible to look into solar energy as one of our energy resources and we started looking for available roof space at city-owned facilities. Pasadena is a built-out city, which makes it difficult to find optimal locations. Some of our challenges include the lack of available land and that most of our facilities are small or have historic value, such as our City Hall building.

We did a feasibility study about five years ago, and we released an inventory of available space on city-owned properties. As a result of this report, we realized that we could put a large solar installation at water facilities. Pasadena Water and Power combines two separate entities, and the Water Division uses lots of electricity to pump, move, and treat water. We thought it would appropriate to look into large water facilities to install solar and help the Water Division to offset some of their electrical consumption and save money in their operations.

We ended up selecting the Windsor Reservoir because there was already an ongoing project at the site. PWP, in collaboration with NASA and JPL (Jet Propulsion Lab), were building a new water treatment plant and we thought solar will be a nice addition to this project. The solar installation is expected to offset 25 percent of the electrical consumption once the water treatment plant is in full operation.

In a way, this project represents both divisions of PWP working together toward the common goal of preserving our natural resources-using renewable energy from the sun to clean up underground water.

What constitutes success for the department? What are your models going forward?

As the program manager, I consider any program a success when we get all customer sectors to participate. We know it will take participation from all customers to solve some of the critical issues we are facing today, such as climate change and water shortage. For a relatively small city, Pasadena has a good number of solar installations in the residential, commercial, and non-profit sectors. For example, CalTech just completed a 1.4-megawatt solar installation about a year ago. They put lots of solar panels on top of building and parking structures.

Pasadena is well known around the world for its scientific, arts, and educational institutions. In recent years, Pasadena has also strived to be a leader in sustainability. Some of these efforts have been recently recognized. For example, our solar program was recently recognized by the Solar Energy Power Association (SEPA) in their annual "Top 10 Utility Solar Rankings Report." In 2010, Pasadena was ranked fifth amongst municipal utilities nationwide in terms of solar watts installed divided by the total number of electric customers (watts per customer). PWP ranked 16th amongst all electric utilities nationwide by the same metric.

Gonzalez-Goodale Architects recently completed construction on your new 31,000-square-foot Department of Water and Power building. Could you talk a little bit about the technology employed to enhance the environmental quality of that building?

I was not involved in that project, but I was responsible for obtaining LEED Gold certification of our City Hall building, which is a historic building. After the City Hall project, it was time for somebody else int he department to work on those types of projects. I understand the department is seeking LEED Gold certification for the new PWP building. The building is unique and efficient in several areas. It incorporates natural light, energy and water efficiency fixtures and equipment, pervious pavement throughout, and even a green roof.

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PWP and the city do not have a feed-in tariff program, but you do have a rebate program to encourage the installation of solar. Could you talk a little bit about the choice of a rebate program as opposed to a feed-in tariff to encourage more transition to solar?

A feed-in tariff schedule is one of the goals on our to-do list. We had discussions about it in the past but we haven't done it yet, mainly due to constraints on our staff. As you know, public entities are now being asked to do more with less due to the economy. It is in our plan to design a feed-in tariff schedule in the future, as PWP has a goal to install ten megawatts by 2023 using this concept.

What percent of Pasadena uses non-fossil fuel energy?

We are currently at about 15 percent and have signed contracts for renewable energy from projects currently in construction that will help us achieve 20 percent by 2013.

Are there goals beyond that?

PWP has several goals under PWP's Integrated Resource Plan (IRP) to increase the use of non-fossil fuel sources in our energy mix. In addition to the solar energy goals I mentioned before, PWP has reached the renewable portfolio standard's (RPS) goal of 15 percent of renewable energy by 2010 and plans to increase the use of renewables to 33 percent by 2015 and 40 percent by 2020. We are constantly looking for new renewable projects to invest in. Last night, the City Council approved two more contracts to buy energy from biogas projects in 2013.

We've made substantial progress toward increasing our renewables in the last five years. I remember renewable energy was only 4-5 percent in our energy mix in 2006 when the city of Pasadena adopted the United Nations Urban Environmental Accords and the Green City Action Plan.

How does Pasadena's solar program align with other city climate change and energy efficiency initiatives-whether smart grid, biofuels, Bloom Energy, or LED lighting?

We have three action items under the Green City Action Plan that address the energy component. The first item deals with reducing electric peak demand with renewables; the second item deals with reducing electrical peak demand with energy efficiency; and the third item deals with reducing greenhouse gas emissions. All of these goals are intertwined.

When I talk to customers who are interested in installing solar, I note to them that as much as I support and promote solar energy, it makes more economic sense to invest in energy efficiency measures that will reduce their electrical consumption. It doesn't make any sense to buy expensive solar panels to generate electricity that will be wasted by inefficient lighting or appliances.

Pasadena is a relatively small city, and we have a good working relationship with our customers. We work with our customers to reduce their electrical and water demand. We provide rebates for a variety of energy and water conservation items including lighting, HVAC, efficient appliances, landscape, and indoor water use. We also work with architects and building professionals in the design and construction of new projects. It's one of the advantages of cities like Pasadena that have their own water and electrical utilities.

If we were to again interview you a year from now about Pasadena's Water and Power Department Solar Program, what do you predict you would discuss?

I've been involved with the solar industry for more than ten years and I like what I'm seeing these days. I especially like all the research taking place to increase module efficiency and reduce the overall cost of solar installations. I also like all the variety of alternatives available to customers in terms of purchase and lease programs. One area where I would like to see more improvement is simplifying and standardizing the solar installation process in all fronts.

I would like Pasadena to be in the same position we are now. We are one of a few cities in Southern California still offering rebate programs to our customers for investing in energy efficiency, water conservation measures, and solar generation. Continuity is a key factor in the success of our programs. Customers are making a big purchase decision and having a rebate available from their local utility make it a lot easier to opt for the more efficient choice.

It's hard for me to predict what will happen next year. The solar industry is moving at a very fast pace, and the state of the economy is unpredictable. My hope is that every new house or building is designed and built with energy and water efficiency in mind, generates some electricity on site, and use materials that minimize the impact to the environment. We are making progress in all these areas, but we still have a long way to go.

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