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Feds award $5m for alternative energy

The federal government has awarded $5 million in stimulus funding for Sacramento-area alternative energy projects, including the state’s first "solar highway," U.S. Rep. Doris Matsui announced Friday.

The U.S. Department of Energy has set aside money from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act for projects to install a section of the state’s first "solar highway" — a system of photovoltaic panels erected along a freeway — and to build facilities for sustainable biogas energy production from food and dairy animal waste. The latter also is intended to also reduce the smell and pollution around two Sacramento County dairy farms.

The funding is part of $20.5 million in stimulus grants being released by the agency. The money will go to the Sacramento Municipal Utility District and its partners in these projects: the California Department of Transportation, Sacramento Regional County Sanitation District, New Hope Dairy, Van Warmerdam Dairy and Garden Highway Foods. The funding is being distributed through the Department of Energy’s Renewable Energy Deployment program.

The federal money will help the local economy by investing in green energy technology and promoting Sacramento as "a clean-tech capital,” Matsui said in a prepared statement.

Solar panel systems have been used along roads in Germany and Switzerland for 20 years. Oregon was the first state to develop a renewable energy project along a U.S. highway. That project powers highway traffic lights and signs at an interchange for I-5 and I-205 south of Portland in 2008.

Now, a SMUD distribution engineer working with the California Department of Transportation has designed a solar panel system that will be installed in the right-of-way on Highway 50 from 59th Street near SMUD headquarters to Stockton Boulevard, and at the Mather Field exit, said Mike DeAngelis, program manager for SMUD’s advanced renewable energy department.

Enough panels will be installed on the berm to produce a megawatt of energy at peak times, the same amount of energy that can be produced by two-kilowatt solar panel systems on 500 homes. During the project’s design review, SMUD will consider which panels would be most attractive for the very visible installation, he said.

Solar panels require a lot of land for the amount of energy they produce, DeAngelis said. That must be taken into account when a utility such as SMUD tries to increase solar power production.

"We think it’s great for areas of land that can’t be used for other purposes, and the highways have a lot of land," he said.

SMUD and partners have been awarded $5 million of a $6.8 million proposal. Installation of the solar panel system will take place, but SMUD and its partners must find the additional $1.8 million or adjust the proposal, DeAngelis said. That could include dropping one of four other proposed projects, he added.

Those four projects would build facilities that use co-digestion and anaerobic digestion, or composting, of organic waste to create energy. The facilities would use grease and food waste, as well as manure and urine from dairy cows.

SMUD proposed building two dairy digester facilities in Galt — at New Hope and Van Warmerdam dairies. There are already two other dairy farm installations in south Sacramento County.

Usually, dairy farms wash cow manure and urine into open pools, and methane is created during decomposition. Although some argue about the effectiveness of anaerobic digesters, the technology is designed to capture the methane and use it to replace natural gas for electricity and to reduce greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to global warming.

"Dairy cows (each) produce about 125 pounds of manure and urine a day. They produce a lot more of undesirable things than the milk they produce," DeAngelis said. "This is an advanced way of cleaning up the waste at dairies."

The third project would be a grease-waste and food-waste project at Sacramento Regional County Sanitation District’s wastewater plant.

SMUD also proposed a food processing waste facility at Garden Highway Foods, which packages fresh-cut produce in Rancho Cordova.

SMUD is the country’s sixth-largest publicly owned utility company. In December, the Department of Energy awarded SMUD and five partners a $7.3 million Smart Grid Energy Storage Demonstration Grant, also through the stimulus program. In addition, the department awarded SMUD $4.3 million in October for a year-long photovoltaic and smart-grid pilot project to study the value of "distributed" energy sources and how energy storage integration can increase that value.


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