GUSTINE - Two cost-saving projects that have long been in the works are moving forward in Gustine.

City Manager Doug Dunford recently advised the City Council that an energy-saving program that includes installation of solar arrays and facility upgrades has started.

A water meter replacement program is expected to begin before the end of the year, he advised.

Energy project

The $2.6 million energy project will involve solar panel arrays at various city locations, including Schmidt Park, the parking lot next to City Hall, the new corporation yard and Henry Miller Park, as well as lighting retrofits in city facilities, improvements to a city well and new HVAC at the police station.

The project will be funded through a $2.2 million, low-interest loan through the California Energy Commission (CEC), augmented by an internal loan of $356,000 from the city’s sewer fund reserves.

The projected savings in energy costs to the city is projected at $4.7 million or more.

The city will not realize energy savings until the sixth year, according to projections, with the most extensive savings over the final 10 years of that time frame.

In addition ENGIE, the energy company installing the systems, will fund three years of a local recreation program for the Gustine community.

“These important infrastructure upgrades will save our community millions of dollars but also provide us a clear path to energy independence,” Dunford commented.

Dunford said recently that new, energy-efficient lighting systems have already been installed at City Hall, the Police Department and Public Works, a well upgrade has been completed and work on the HVAC systems at GPD is expected to begin later this month.

The more visible component of the project - installation of the solar panels - is expected to start this month and be completed by early 2021, Dunford told Mattos Newspapers. Officials gathered last Thursday for a ground-breaking ceremony for the solar arrays that will be installed in Henry Miller Park.

Water meters

Dunford said he now anticipates the grant-funded, $2.2 million water meter replacement project starting in late November to early December.

He said Monday that the city had just received a signed contract from the state, allowing the project to move ahead. Completion is expected to take about 90 days, he noted, but the contract allows 120 days in the event of weather delays.

The city will conduct an outreach program about the new meters and the installation process, which will include shut-offs of about 30 minutes while a meter is installed. Dunford said he hopes to hold a virtual town hall meeting to explain the project and field questions from the public.

Dunford said the new, state-of-the-art meters will offer a number of benefits - one of the most significant of which is a significant savings in staff time.

Currently, he said, four public works employees spend the better part of a week each month to manually read water meters, and City Hall staff must then input the data into the billing system.

With the new meters, Dunford said, information will be automatically transmitted to a City Hall server and downloaded into the billing system with the touch of a button.

The new meters are expected to generate additional revenues for the city because they will more accurately read water consumption.

The company installing the meters, Schneider Electric, conducted an audit of meters and found that on average meters were under-reading consumption by nearly 20 percent, Dunford said in August.

Dunford said the new system allows users to conveniently monitor their water use from a smartphone or computer. Not only can that tool alert customers to a potential water leak, he said, it also lets them track water use to more efficiently manage the resource.

The project will involve replacement of 1,500 older residential water meters with the new units and retrofitting of the 350 newer meters with technology that allows them to electronically transmit consumption data to City Hall.