Solar panels help power county jail
Monday, Alameda County, Calif., dedicated the nation’s largest rooftop solar electric system, located at the Santa Rita Jail in Dublin, Calif. The event marked the completion of a three-phase installation of solar photovoltaic panels on 14 of the jail’s 18 housing units. The solar electric system will generate 1.18 Megawatts of electricity and will reduce the jail’s use of utility-generated electricity by 30 percent.
Last July, in response to the state’s energy crisis, Alameda County searched for ways to decrease the amount of energy used by county facilities. The county commissioned Berkeley, Calif.-based PowerLight to install a 519-kilowatt solar photovoltaic system at the jail, which is the largest energy consumer of all county buildings. In addition, the county replaced the jail’s chiller, installed a reflective coating on the roofs of jail buildings not covered by solar panels and upgraded the jail’s energy management system. In October, the county expanded the solar panel project by 131 kilowatts.
As a result of those energy-saving measures, the jail diverted about 1.7 million kilowatt-hours from the state’s power grid and reduced its monthly electric bills. “Alameda County installed photovoltaics because the economics were so compelling,” says Alameda County Supervisor Scott Haggerty. “Because our energy generation and cost savings were higher than projected, we decided to purchase additional solar generation.”
Monday’s events celebrated the second expansion, which, in total, is designed to divert more than 2.5 million kilowatt-hours from the state’s power grid. “With solar electric generation, we reduced our overall energy cost and, in particular, reduced our purchases of expensive, peak energy from our local utility,” says Matt Muniz, Alameda County energy program manager. “With energy efficiency and demand-side management technologies, we have maximized the value of our solar investment while modernizing our facility.”
The $9 million project to improve energy efficiency at the jail was funded by state government incentives and loans from the Sacramento-based California Energy Commission and the San Francisco-based California Public Utility Commission. The county expects to save more than $400,000 in the first year of the system’s operation; over the 25-year life of the project, the county expects to save $15 million.
For more information about the solar power system, visit www.co.alameda.ca.us/srjp/index.htm.