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Jail's Solar Power System to be Fourth-Largest in World

by Donna Horowitz, Staff Writer
Oakland Tribune, December 05, 2001

The solar power project at Santa Rita Jail, considered the country's largest rooftop system, just got bigger.

Without discussion, the Alameda County Board of Supervisors voted Tuesday to expand the 641-kilowatt system to 1.14 megawatts, increasing its cost by more than $1 million from $4.5 million to $5.6 million.

The additional panels mean the jail will now be powered by the fourth largest solar-paneled system in the world, according to the county.

"We want to be as independent as we can from the electric grid and use clean, renewable power to reach that goal," said Matt Muniz, energy program manager with the county's General Services Agency.

The expansion, which would take place next spring, will allow the jail to supply 30 percent of its own electricity, or double the amount provided by the present rooftop panels.

Originally, panels producing 500 kilowatts of power were installed in July. At the end of October, more panels went up -- adding another 141 kilowatts of power to the system for a total of 641 kilowatts.

The county has contracted with PowerLight Corp. of Berkeley to construct the photovoltaic system at the jail.

"The first phase was a huge success," said Janice Lin, vice president of business development for PowerLight. "The facility has an enormous rooftop. ... The economics were extremely compelling."

Much of the project's cost was covered by grants and low-cost loans to the county and PowerLight.

Muniz said the county got two grants from the California Energy Commission -- one for $460,000 and the other for $500,000.

In addition, the county expects to get $2 million in loans at 3 percent interest from the state Energy Commission's energy-efficiency financing program. The county expects to hear today that a $1.1 million loan has been approved by the state. The county previously got a $900,000 loan from the state.

Also, a $1.3 million grant to cut the cost of the project went directly to PowerLight from Pacific Gas & Electric Co., Muniz said.

The county expects to save $410,000 in its first year from lower energy costs, or a net savings of $15 million over the 25-year life of the solar system.

The world's three larger solar projects are: Enel Research Center in Serre, Italy, 3.3 megawatts; Sacramento Municipal Utility District, 2.5 megawatts; and The Hague, Amsterdam, 2.3 megawatts. The county cited statistics from the National Renewable Energy Lab.

As to the county's achievement as the fourth largest solar energy producer, Muniz said: "I hope it won't be for very long. I'm all for other government and commercial companies going forward. ... The more we can generate electricity without fossil fuels, the better for all of us."

Donna Horowitz, Staff Writer
Jail's Solar Power System to be Fourth-Largest in World
Oakland Tribune - December 05, 2001

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