Santa Barbara Harbor Commission recommends marina electric sub-metering program

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SANTA BARBARA—A plan to reduce energy consumption at Santa Barbara Harbor by individually charging slip holders for electricity use is officially moving forward to the local City Council for consideration. The Santa Barbara Harbor Commission, on March 21, recommended as marina electric sub-metering program for the city’s waterfront, essentially calling for slip permit holders to help tackle the harbor’s high energy consumption.

Santa Barbara Harbor, which is home to four marinas and 1,141 slip permit holders, constitutes the third highest use of all electricity in the city; a wastewater treatment plant and Santa Barbara Airport are the only other places to use more electricity. All of the marinas use up $180,000 worth of electricity annually, according to Santa Barbara Harbor Facilities Manger Karl Treiberg.

Sub-metering is fairly common at mobile home parks and marinas, Treiberg continued. Pursuing a sub-metering program at Santa Barbara Harbor, accordingly, would actually reduce the venue’s electricity use.

“Paying for any resource such as electricity, water, or natural gas provides an economic incentive to conserve. Many marinas that implemented programs to sub-meter for electricity and charge individual slip-holders have experienced significant reductions in electrical use, as much as 50 percent in some cases,” Santa Barbara Harbor Waterfront Director Scott Riedman said in a staff report.

His report added more than half of Southern California marinas surveyed by the Waterfront Department sub-meter individual slip holders for electricity.

“It is fairly common for modern marinas to charge each boat separately for electricity. According to the Waterfront’s annual survey of southern California marinas, 8 out of 17 of surveyed marinas sub-meter their slipholders for electricity, and one has a surcharge for electricity,” Riedman wrote in his report to commissioners. “[Santa Barbara’s] Harbors and Navigation Code … authorizes marina operators to sub-meter for electricity actually used by each vessel and charge the slipholder accordingly.”

Riedman added the Waterfront Department has been aware of the benefits associated with sub-meter program and installed sub-meters in Marina 4 during the mid-1980s. A second push for sub-meters came in 1998, when Marina 1 was expanded.

“Neither project was expanded to include all 1,141 slips in the harbor,” Riedman wrote in his March 21 report to commissioners.

Santa Barbara’s City Council, at the recommendation of the Harbor Commission, will now consider implementing a sub-meter program for all slip permit holders at the harbor.

The Waterfront Department acknowledged installing sub-meters on more than 1,100 slips “is a significant task and previous efforts were not carried out for a variety of reasons.”

A reading of electricity use patterns in late 2018 and early 2019 revealed a few trends, according to Riedman’s report.

“Small boats, for example, tend to use less electricity than large boats. Use tends to be higher in the winter, when days are short and boaters use heaters to stay warm,” Riedman said. “Liveaboards’ electrical use is generally higher than the overall average.”

One in three boats, however, use little to no electricity, according to Riedman and Treiberg.

“Based on preliminary meter readings, 10 percent of the boats use 60 percent of the electricity and 20 percent of the boats use 81 percent – primary reasons why including a specific, one-size-fits-all surcharge in the monthly slip fee is not the preferred method of recovering the cost of electricity,” Riedman wrote in his report. “Energy conservation is a much more achievable objective when only 10-20 percent of the slip permittees have to assess their electrical use and reduce that use by whatever means.”

Boats consume an estimated 76 percent of all electricity used in the harbor, according to Waterfront Department staff; marina restrooms account for the other 24 percent.

Billing to individual slip-permit holders would begin in August should the City Council approve the recommended marina sub-meter program.

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