Some of Malibu’s residents, plus many living just outside of Malibu in the unincorporated Santa Monica Mountains, get their water from the Las Virgenes Municipal Water District (LVMWD). Just over a year ago, LVMWD and the Triunfo Water District Joint Powers Authority announced that their newly expanded 5-megawatt solar power generating facility had begun operating.
The $6 million solar farm is located on a 20-acre site close to LVMWD headquarters at 4232 Las Virgenes Road — right next to the “Bark Park.” The initial solar project, completed in 2013, was designed to generate peak power of approximately 1 megawatt, which was used to pump recycled water for regional use. The expansion to 5 megawatts, also called Phase II, now provides additional long-term cost savings and reduces the need to purchase more expensive electricity from traditional sources.
“One of our biggest goals is to always innovate and make the smallest carbon footprint possible,” said Public Affairs and Communications Manager Mike McNutt in a phone interview. “We’re reaping the benefits and the customers are saving the money. It’s an investment in sustainable practices now that will pay dividends later.”
McNutt said the solar expansion now provides enough electricity to offset the annual costs of running the Tapia Water Reclamation Facility.
“The reduction of greenhouse gas emissions achieved by the solar expansion is estimated to be equivalent to removing 1,200 cars from the road or planting 6,600 trees,” added Riki Clark, public affairs associate. “This upgrade will save customers $10 million over a 25-year period, which is significant.” The water district currently has about 75,000 customers.
Although the solar farm site sits right next to Las Virgenes Road and is just over a mile from the 101 freeway, it’s invisible because of landscaping and terrain. The ground-mounted photovoltaic solar panels are on mechanical sun-tracking systems, and the solar panels are non-glare.
The solar site was previously used as a spray field to dispose of surplus recycled water during low-demand seasons, but it was no longer needed for that purpose. The land had previously been cleared and graded and was designated as “open space” by Calabasas.
The electricity generated by the farm is transmitted along a dedicated underground line through the site, which then connects to a Southern California Edison 16kV distribution line on the east side of Las Virgenes Road.
“We as a district are leaders in the water industry, but you need a lot of electricity to move water, so the two are interrelated,” McNutt emphasized. “We can use solar power to help minimize those electrical costs, which keep increasing. It all helps combat climate change.”
“Pumping water is the largest use of electricity in the state of California,” Clark added.
The Las Virgenes-Triunfo Joint Powers Authority (JPA) was established between Las Virgenes Municipal Water District and Triunfo Water & Sanitation District to treat wastewater within the Malibu Creek watershed. The JPA owns and operates Tapia and the Rancho Las Virgenes Composting Facility.