Cost Savings Drives Decision to Install Microgrid at California Wastewater Treatment Plant

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The McKinleyville Community Services District in northern California has selected Ameresco to build a $2 million microgrid at a wastewater treatment plant.


By SevenMaps/

While California has seen a wave of microgrid projects in response to wildfire-related power outages, the McKinleyville project is driven by a desire to cut electricity costs.

The project includes a 580-kW solar array, a 500-kW battery energy storage system that can produce 1,340 KWh in a single discharge and an existing diesel generator.

“As part of our community’s broader sustainability efforts, this project creates a pathway for our local wastewater treatment facility to reach net-zero emissions,” said MCSD Manager Greg Orsini. “By bringing new, clean energy sources on-site and adding battery storage, the facility will produce as much energy as it consumes and be better prepared to withstand potential utility outages in the future.”

The McKinleyville Community Services District, which provides water, wastewater, parks and recreation services to the town’s 17,000 residents, issued a request for proposals in August for a microgrid that would lower power costs related to a recent upgrade at its Hiller Park wastewater treatment plant. The district also wanted to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions.

$65,000 in cost savings first year

The district received two offers: a $1.96 million bid from Ameresco, based in Framingham, Massachusetts, and a $4.64 million proposal from Stronghold Engineering in Perris, California, according to the district.

In its bid, Ameresco said the solar array would cost $937,000 to install, the battery system would cost $656,000 and the microgrid controller would cost $90,000.

The project will save the district about $65,000 in lower electricity costs in its first year of operations, according to Ameresco’s bid packet.

The energy efficiency and renewable energy firm expects power from the facility will cost 17 cents/kWh over 30 years, with the solar panels producing about 820,950 kWh in the first year.

Ameresco has hired Siemens and ABB to provide the battery system and microgrid controller for the project, according to the bid packet.

The district will own the facility, with construction set to get underway this year.

California microgrids on the rise

The project comes as microgrid development escalates in California, much of it driven by last year’s public safety power shut offs (PSPS) — instances where utilities shut off power to prevent electric lines from sparking wildfires. New projects have been announced by communities, businesses and government. In addition, Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) has issued a solicitation seeking 20 microgrids, totaling 500 MW, an estimated $1 billion opportunity.

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“Communities in Northern California have weathered some of the most extreme effects of climate change coupled with PG&E’s PSPS events, which makes energy resiliency projects such as this one so important,” said Mike Bakas, Ameresco executive vice president.

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