Hayward goes green: City aims to lower energy use by 2025

Kali Persall,
Managing Editor

Over the next eight years, Hayward residents will see a lot more solar panels in their city — $15 million worth, to be exact — mounted on everything from fire stations to carports.

On Dec. 6, the seven-member Hayward City Council voted unanimously to adopt a zero net energy goal for municipal facilities by 2025.

The term “Zero Net Energy” or ZNE means that a building powers itself, Hayward Mayor Barbara Halliday told the Pioneer. The goal of the initiative is to reduce the city’s production of greenhouse gasses by transitioning to alternative, renewable energy sources like solar.

“We strive to produce as much energy as we use,” she said. “We’re trying to put solar in anywhere we can.”

Statewide efforts to go solar

The proposal is in line with state energy efficiency goals, which aim to lower all new residential construction to ZNE by 2020 and commercial construction by 2030, according to the California Public Utilities Commission. These goals were included in the 2008 California Long Term Energy Efficiency Strategic Plan, which was developed collaboratively with California’s major utility companies.

This includes PG&E, which services Northern and Central California, Edison Company, which services Southern California, San Diego Gas & Electric and Southern California Gas Company, along with 500 other organizations and individuals, according to the Strategic Plan, which was updated in 2011.

PG&E services 15 million residential and commercial customers over 70,000 square miles, spanning from Eureka to Bakersfield, according to PG&E Corporate Relations Officer Ari Vanrenen. PG&E services over 1.13 million gas and electric customers in Alameda County.

The company has offered energy efficiency programs and services since the 1970s, such as retrofitting and solar installations. It also shares the state’s ZNE goals. There are currently 280,000 rooftop solar customers connected to the energy grid, making up one-fourth of rooftop solar projects in the country, Vanrenen said.

Funding comes from Measure C

Since Jan. 1, Hayward’s initiative requires that all new city-owned facilities be built to produce ZNE, according to the project proposal.

Halliday said that new equipment includes solar panels, LED lights, lights that automatically turn off when you leave a room and electric-powered appliances instead of natural gas. Existing buildings that are compatible with the upgrades will also be retrofitted.

The city of Hayward currently spends $2.3 million per year on electricity and natural gas, according to the proposal. The project will cost $17 million, with a payback period of 10 to 21 years and a return on investment of five to ten percent.

The majority of the funding will come from Measure C, a 2014 city-wide sales tax measure of half a cent over a period of 20 years, that is used to fund city services such as emergency medical, police, and firefighting services, according to the measure’s sample ballot pamphlet.

The construction of the new Hayward Library, 21st Century Library and Community Learning Center, which broke ground in Oct. 2015 and will be fitted with solar and other energy efficient features, is also funded by Measure C, according to Halliday.

The city currently operates a number of self-sustaining facilities that utilize solar, including the Water Pollution Control Facility, the Hayward Animal Shelter, the Utilities Center and the corporation yard, according to the project proposal. Together, these facilities produce over 12 million kilowatt hours annually, or “approximately half of the electricity consumed at all city facilities.”

Police Station, Fire Station, City Hall earmarked for upgrades

Halliday said the Water Pollution Control Facility was formerly the city’s biggest user of energy before a cogeneration facility, a power station that generates electricity and heat simultaneously, was built onto it in 1980.

The cogenerator was upgraded in 2015 and now produces more energy than it uses by turning methane into energy. The plant also utilizes a solar panel that automatically moves with the sun.

Hayward’s Environmental Services manager Erik Pearson told the Pioneer that the water treatment plant currently produces one megawatt hour of energy, or 1,000 kWh. A plan to add another solar panel is in the works.

Pearson said that the Council Sustainability Committee presented the ZNE initiative goal to the city council. The Committee will be charged with implementing the ZNE initiative for the city.

According to Pearson, the city currently offsets 40 percent of its total energy usage through renewable sources. The goal is to reduce the remaining 60 percent to zero.

The proposal states that in 2015 the city of Hayward purchased 9.4 million kWh for approximately $2.2 million, which was used for buildings, traffic signals, streetlights, water and wastewater pumping. The same year, the city spent $154,837 on 4.6 kWh of natural gas used for space and water heating.

In order to attain ZNE, the city will need to generate 14 million kWh of electricity through renewable sources. If all the potential sites earmarked for upgrades, which include the police station, fire stations, city hall, the Water Pollution Control Facility and May Road, located within the Garin and Dry Creek Pioneer Regional Parks, are fitted with renewable equipment, 15 million kWh could be generated annually, according to the proposal.

“In order to meet our long-term greenhouse gas reduction goals, this is something we need to do,” Pearson said.

“If we individually can do this, then we can do it as a city.”

To put this in perspective, an average U.S. household used 901 kWh of electricity per month in 2015, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. The U.S. Census Bureau states that there were 159,289 people living in Hayward in 2015.

The city has worked to become more “green” through other methods that range from LED streetlights to building more electric car power stations, according to councilmember Francisco Zermeno, who has served on the Sustainability Committee for eight years.

Zermeno said the city encourages residents to collect rainwater, install solar panels and pipes to utilize grey water and compost waste in line with the city’s goal of reducing garbage output by 80 percent.

Zermeno said he presented the idea of solar-powered carports to Chabot College several years ago, and they subsequently saved 30 percent of energy and approximately $30,000-$40,000. “It’s a win-win, customers will be able to have their cars protected and we’ll be using solar energy,” said Zermeno.

At home, he has planted drought resistant plants and installed solar panels, which can run up to $10,000 to install, but have lowered his energy bill to $10 a month.

“I’m brown on the outside and green on the inside,” said Zermeno. “[We’re] leading by example; if we individually can do this, then we can do it as a city.”

In 2009, Hayward was one of first cities in California to develop a climate action plan and has produced renewable energy since the 1980s, according to Halliday.

In November, the city council voted to join the East Bay Community Energy program, a renewable energy joint powers authority with ten other cities in Alameda County, according to councilmember Mark Salinas.

“We want to be the model,” said Salinas. “Financially we’re able to do it. We have the money available to implement a plan like this.”

The “energy cooperative” will allow the cities to pool their collected renewable energy and send it back into the city through PG&E lines as an alternative for city residents, said Salinas. The goal is to transition away from fossil fuel-burning companies and become a sustainable, independent energy source.

“The energy we’re pulling is coming from non-fossil fuel sources; wind, solar and natural gas,” said Salinas. “We’re sort of starting our own energy company.”

Halliday said even as Hayward transitions to ZNE, the city would still utilize PG&E for natural gas.