News for those who live, work and play in the Santiam Canyon

Gates may add solar power to water plant

Reporter for The Canyon Weekly

The City of Gates is pursuing a grant to add a solar panel array to its water treatment plant, which could reduce costs to ratepayers and make the plant more robust during a potential disaster.

On June 30, City Councilor Brian Gander detailed a timeline to seek funds through the Oregon Department of Energy Community Renewable Energy Program, which set aside $12 million in COVID-19 relief funds for projects that create “resilience” in a city’s renewable energy infrastructure.

Gander, who also serves as sanitation commissioner, said this will make the plant less reliant on the power grid, which will help reduce electrical costs during normal operations and increase operability if the grid is down.

“This will give us an ability to produce water in a more systematic manner, that way we can reduce draw on Pacific Power and actually feed back into the system some power, which will offset the city’s costs,” said Gander.

The plan is to build a 50-kilowatt system, with two solar arrays on the ground and one on the roof, that could power the plant directly and charge back-up batteries. 

Gander said this could reduce the plant’s dependence on the electrical grid by 80 percent, a cost savings that would be passed on to water customers. 

The arrays and batteries would also integrate with a diesel generator, so there would be less demand on the generator during emergencies, while the generator could also charge the batteries when needed. Gander said this integration would require some technical expertise to plan and implement, while the rest of the proposed solar plant would be rather straightforward.

“Once the build starts, it’s not a huge build,” he said. “It’s fairly standard protocol for solar arrays.”

And this upgrade would have benefits during emergencies beyond keeping the lights on. In addition to power, the diesel generator provides heat to the building, which is particularly beneficial during winter emergencies such as the devastating 2021 ice storm. 

Gander said this would come in handy for first responders or disaster agencies seeking a base of operations during a similar event.

“We’ll use the water plant for a command center for county or first responders to support the citizens of Gates,” he said.

Gates applied for the first round of funding July 8, seeking $9,125 for planning services. If approved, the funding could become available in September and the project could go out for bids in March, 2023.

Once the city has a firm idea of construction costs, it could apply for a second round of funding and construction could begin by this time next year. Gander said both phases should be completely funded by the grants, which will allow the city to pass further savings to ratepayers.

He said there is already strong support for the project going forward, including from Marion County and the Mid-Willamette Valley Council of Governments, through which Wildfire Recovery Coordinator Sarah Allaben helped write the grant. 

ODE plans to review grants by Sept. 9 and applicants who receive awards will be notified by Sept. 23.

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