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California City Solutions: Brea Creates Green Community with Energy Efficient Upgrades and Solar

June 6, 2014
This story is part of an ongoing series featuring Helen Putnam Award entries.
 
These entries are also now available on the League’s website as a resource for cities in a searchable database called California City Solutions. Brea’s Energy Efficiency and Solar Power Project was submitted in 2013 for the Public Works, Infrastructure, and Transportation award category.
 
In order to meet budget challenges and become more energy efficient, the city of Brea’s Public Works Department proposed a comprehensive project to increase environmental sustainability. Partnering with Chevron Energy Solutions (CES) the city upgraded its heating, ventilating, air-conditioning and lighting at several city facilities and replaced all outdoor city street lighting. These upgrades were accompanied by the construction of a brand new solar power system using three city sites, making Brea Orange County’s largest municipal solar energy producer. The project put Brea in the forefront of environmental efficiency, reducing utility costs and creating a significant savings.
 
The recent recession led Brea, like many other cities, to create an action plan to address depressed revenues combined with increasing operational costs. Additionally the city also wanted to prepare for future energy efficiency requirements. The new unknown costs could be a significant challenge.
 
As the entire city considered options for savings, the Public Works Department put forward a major proposal. One of the less evident, yet major demands for electricity related to pumping water into the reservoirs and then throughout the city so it became important to design a plan that could incorporate efficiencies for these operations. A well-crafted plan, ideally providing immediate budget relief, would also position itself for early compliance with AB 32’s emerging mandates related to greenhouse gases.
 
Brea by 2011 was ready to move ahead with an idea to generate long-term General Fund and Water Fund savings through an ambitious plan called the Energy Efficiency and Solar Power project. The project comprised  three major components: multiple retrofits and modernization at all of the city’s operational facilities, upgrades to all city street lighting, and construction of three separate solar installations capable of generating up to 1.8 megawatts of clean, renewable power.
 
To address the financial, political, and technical Brea city partnered with Chevron Energy Solutions (CES), a qualified design-build partner with the breadth of experience and industry clout required to execute a comprehensive project of this size. The two spent a year evaluating options.
 
With Brea City Council approval, finance, building maintenance, and engineering preparations began with in-depth energy audits using the CES’ expertise. After completing this research, a working group submitted an integrated set of recommendations. The City Council appointed two of its members to an ad-hoc committee to evaluate recommendations who consulted affiliates of the Community Energy Partnership, a collaboration of Southern California utility companies and public agencies, to process feedback and cross-check qualifications.
 
Brea’s finance staff and public works analyst secured bonds, grants, and rebates so that the project could be funded from support outside of the city’s usual resources. Bond rates during that period were favorable given Brea’s high credit rating. The city also took advantage of Southern California Edison’s (SCE) rebates and became a part of the California Solar Initiative (CSI) program, which offers direct payments for solar technology to produce new kilowatt hours. Each financial element demanded timely coordination from CES to create a step in the project and keep it moving in order to meet tight qualification deadlines.
 
Brea’s Public Works staff worked with CES engineers during the full design process. Additionally, throughout the construction period, public works, parks, water and building departments collaborated with the CES project manager in the field to oversee specialty contractors for many diverse installations.
 
Starting from the earliest planning stages and continuing throughout the project, newsletter articles and site signage were circulated to keep the public informed. The city’s webpage Green Life, Green Brea” featured frequent project updates. Now a permanent feature on Brea’s website, this portal monitors actual solar production and connects users to other initiatives for community-wide sustainability. An ongoing “Green Life, Green Brea” branding presence is recognized throughout the community for sharing environmental information and recognizing outstanding efforts by local businesses.
 
Key Elements
 
By the project’s end, Brea had successfully implemented sound new operational cost controls and emerged as a leader for sustainable practices. The city has accomplished an overall reduction in energy consumption of about 40 percent. This translates into more than $2.6 million of energy cost savings over just the first five years of the project and $13 million in net savings during its 25-year life span.
 
Fourteen separate city facilities were retrofitted for energy efficiency. Among these are the Senior Center, Fire Stations, Brea Community Center, the 1928 “Plunge” public swimming pool and more. A quick summary of installations includes:
  • 5,267 lighting fixtures;
  • 908 occupancy censors; and
  • 18 HVAC package units with over 2,000 tons of capacity. 
Another component of the overall project was replacing all of the street lighting throughout residential and commercial districts in the city:
  • 3,157 cobra heads on public thoroughfares; and
  • 1,003 decorative fixtures in residential tracts. 
Solar panels cover a combined area of 141,372 square feet or about 3.2 acres, and together have the capacity to produce 1.8 megawatts of clean renewable solar power. Panels were placed at three locations:
  • 1,820 at the Brea Community Center;
  • 1,120 at the Brea Civic & Cultural Center; and
  • 4,914 over the main reservoir in the Public Works yard. 
Energy production savings through the three solar sites was 16 percent higher than originally projected. Rebates through the CSI steadily increased and the city also qualified for one-time payments from SCE through the Energy Leader Partnership Program. After making all debt service payments, the city made over a half million dollars in net savings at the one year milestone.
 
With bold action on energy management, Brea now retains dollars in the General Fund to be directed towards programs, not simply daily operation. Portions of project savings accumulate in the city’s Water Fund, helping to stabilize costs for operating the utility.
 
Brea made a difficult decision to move ahead on integrating sustainability during a severe recessionary period, but that decision has now better positioned the city for economic recovery as efficiency measures fully function. The savings are redirected into community programs and flow back to the local economy.
 
Even during implementation, the city’s partnership with CES provided local economic value. Undertaking such a large project turned into a welcome local stimulus. Actual construction work created direct, certified payroll employment equaling 29 full-time equivalent jobs.
 
The city discovered that savings can be found even in smaller, stand-alone initiatives. All of these initiatives multiply and connect community benefits. There is new confidence as Brea folds sustainability into General Plan element updates. At every level, Brea now invites participation with its Green Life, Green Brea mindset.


 
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