EBMUD unveils new 12-acre solar plant in Orinda

ORINDA — There are 12 acres of new, sun-hungry hardware just off Bear Creek Road in Orinda, coincidentally across the road from a PG&E substation below Briones Reservoir.

Only this new facility — acres of new shiny solar panels absorbing sunlight — is an East Bay Municipal Utility District project.

Turns out they need power to move water to about 1.4 million customers and have decided solar power is the way to do much of it.

The East Bay Municipal Utility District Orinda Photovoltaic Solar Energy Project.

Ray Saint Germain/Bay City News

EBMUD on Thursday unveiled the Orinda Photovoltaic Solar Energy Project (Orinda PV), a spread full of more than 12,000 solar panels that can produce 10 million kilowatt-hours of clean, renewable energy per year, offsetting nearly 10 percent of EBMUD’s energy costs.

The project will go online this fall and instead of plugging all that new clean energy into EBMUD facilities, it goes into PG&E’s grid, with PG&E crediting EBMUD for the energy it contributes to its overall energy supply.

The five-year project is part of EBMUD’s decision to move its goal to being totally carbon neutral by 2030, a decade earlier than its previous goal.

“We cannot be successful in our mission without protecting the environment, which means carefully managing our natural resources,” said EBMUD general manager Clifford Chan during a ceremony at the plant Thursday morning. “And while we’re making significant investments in our infrastructure, we also have to invest in sustainability. And this renewable energy project is a key part of our strategy.”

Chan said climate change is no longer just a concept happening in the future.

“Climate change is happening now and that change will affect many of us, many aspects of our lives, including our ability to deliver reliable and affordable water,” Chan said. “So this project helps all of us. Investing in a sustainable future is the right thing to do for our customers. It’s the right thing to do for our planet now and for future generations.”

EBMUD entered into a 25-year agreement on the Orinda project with TotalEnergies, a global multi-energy company based in the Bay Area.

“This project is exciting for a lot of reasons,” said EBMUD board member Marguerite Young. “It’s our largest solar installation. We have put solar panels in a lot of our facilities at a much smaller scale. But this is a signature project for us. It will provide about 10% of our energy, saving our customers $26 million over the life of the project or it will probably last longer than 25 years. It’s one of the largest installations in the Bay Area today.”

The panels have motors allowing for up to 15 percent range of motion to track the sun, which they will do as soon as it comes up in the east every morning. They can stand 120 mph winds and sit on a plain where drainage wasn’t altered.

Orinda City Councilmember Brandyn Iverson said city officials were initially worried about the size of the project built in a naturally beautiful area. But EBMUD won over the community.

“The commitment to stewardship and preservation showed in everything about this project,” Iverson said. “It’s invisible. It is sensitively cited. It was really well thought through and presented. So to come see it finished and it’s still invisible … it’s a terrific project on every level.”

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