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Medford nears deal on solar-powered sewage treatment

MEDFORD — The region's wastewater treatment plant may be running off the sun later this year.

The Medford City Council is set to approve a deal with SunEnergy Power Corp. of Bend for construction of a 15-acre, 11,000-panel solar farm at the regional sewage treatment plant. The council meeting is scheduled for noon today in the Council Chambers.

"This is the first stage of a process to bring solar power to the regional water treatment plant," said Jim Hill, water reclamation administrator for Medford public works.

Another company, SunEdison of Baltimore, also submitted a proposal, but the city chose the Bend company.

"They were the ones that were able to put together a package that saves our sewer rate payers the most money," said Cory Crebbin, Medford public works director. Crebbin said the region's sewer rates won't decrease, but any rate increase will be deferred because of the savings.

"We anticipate we're going to save money, and we anticipate it's going to be more each year," said Crebbin, though he didn't want to estimate a dollar amount. "We don't control all the factors that control how much we're going to save over the years."

Hill said SunEnergy will seek investors to pay for the construction of a 2 megawatt solar power plant on Kirtland Road north of Medford. SunEnergy would sell the electricity to the water reclamation plant for less than the cost of conventional electricity. The company also would receive financial benefits from federal and state tax credits, environmental "green" energy credits, and the proceeds from the sale of the power to the wastewater treatment plant. The city, in exchange for hosting the project on vacant city-owned land, receives the benefit of promised low-cost power to the plant with no capital or operating costs.

Mo Rousso, president of SunEnergy, said a Portland broker and a Portland bank have indicated interest in investing.

City Councilman Al Densmore brought the idea to the council, and SunEnergy submitted a draft proposal in June.

"This solar project is an example of creative use of tax credits that can't be used by a municipality but can be used by an investor," he said. "Collaborations on capital projects is really what folks want to see us doing."

He said the council is encouraging city staff to look for ways to use resources more wisely.

"If there's payback from these kinds of things then we ought to be using it," Densmore said. "I see us as trying to examine the way we operate."

The solar panels would generate about 90 percent of the power the water reclamation plant purchases from Pacific Power.

Hill said if investors are found, permits are obtained, and the council approves the final agreement, the solar plant could be built and producing electricity by late fall.

Reach reporter Meg Landers at 776-4481 or e-mail mlanders@mailtribune.com.