Solar Powers California County Jails

As California deals with overcrowding in its state prison system by transferring low-level offenders to county correctional facilities, one municipality has found a way to cut costs without cutting services while also helping the state meet its renewable energy goals. Merced County has recently announced that it has commissioned a 1.4-megawatt (MW) photovoltaic (PV) array to power the county’s correctional facilities in El Nido, Calif.

The system, developed and installed by Siemens, will generate enough electricity to meet approximately 70 percent of the facilities’ peak electricity consumption, and offset its entire annual consumption.

The system consists of two triangular-shaped arrays, for a total of 6,272 solar panels ground-mounted on 4.5 acres next to the John Latorraca Correctional Facility and the Iris Garrett Juvenile Justice Correctional Complex. Siemens also upgraded the complex’s lighting systems to make the facility more energy-efficient and improve the economics of the entire project. Money saved by the project will be deposited in a fund used to support other capital improvements, including planned energy efficiency upgrades at all county facilities.

Siemens-merced-solar

image via Siemens

According to project planners, the county will benefit from nearly $1.6 million over five years in solar incentive payments, and save nearly $14 million in electricity costs over 25 years. Merced County and Siemens partnered with local businesses to complete the project, including Collins Electric, Suntrek, Phase One Construction and Volvo Rents.

Overall, the project planners have estimated that the project will result in a total positive cash flow to Merced County of nearly $9 million over 25 years.

“We are thrilled to be turning on a new era of sustainability for Merced County citizens. I think all will agree we have made a solid investment that will yield tremendous fiscal and environmental benefits to the county and its citizens for decades to come,” said Board of Supervisors Chairman John Pedrozo. “The economics of the system could not be better.”

Lauren Craig is a writer and consultant living in Seattle, WA. She holds an M.S. in International Development from Tulane University, and is co-founder of Sustainable Systems Integrators, LLC., an employee-owned solar energy design and installation firm in New Orleans, LA. She is also certified in PV design and installation by the North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners (NABCEP).