Editorial: City wins with public-private partnership

Editor’s note: Since the publication of this editorial, more information has been revealed about the process that went into OK’ing this agreement.

Hollister officials have taken a big step forward by partnering with the private sector on a project that should save taxpayers millions of dollars over its 30-year life.

The Hollister City Council’s recently approved an agreement with Atherton-based ClearSpot Energy to have the company power the wastewater treatment plant using solar panels. Not only does the move show council members are accepting of nontraditional, practical solutions, but it also is marked by a bold, unhesitating collaboration with the private sector, the type of relationship that generally lacks in government when it comes to fiduciary responsibility.

The basic premise of the agreement is that ClearSpot will pay all capital and operating costs for the solar plant next to the wastewater treatment facility on the city’s west side. With the city providing the land, about 170,000 square feet, ClearSpot intends to sell power back to Hollister at a discounted rate. The company estimates saving taxpayers between $2 million and $10.6 million over the project’s life.

It has a tremendous upside and a low-risk, unlikely downside. That potential disadvantage is the scenario in which energy costs drop so much lower than ClearSpot’s projections – which are from federal government estimates – that the envisioned savings turns into an added cost in the end.

Here, on the other hand, are some of the likely benefits:

– The project could save an average of more than $300,000 per year for the city if the projections are met.

– ClearSpot is promising to do all of its hiring locally, with two years of construction work on the project.

– It’s a relatively modest project with low risk.

– ClearSpot’s partners are highly reputable. Rosendin Electric is one of the largest electrical contracting firms in California, and they’re joined by the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers.

– Gavilan College and local students gain from it because ClearSpot has committed to developing a curriculum for training at the site.

– Taxpayers ultimately could see a lowering to their sewer bills.

– ClearSpot estimates it could help avoid 1.13 million pounds of carbon dioxide emissions each year, which it says is equivalent to not burning 1.55 million gallons of gas over the system’s life.

In other words, it’s a slam dunk if there ever was one these days.

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