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County project generates savings

October 21, 2013

County elected officials and staff members enjoy the shade last Tuesday provided by the photovoltaic solar installation built over the Courthouse Annex parking lot in Independence. Photo by Jon Klusmire

The bright sunshine in Independence last Tuesday matched the sunny financial projections for Inyo County’s recently completed $2 million solar project which includes three separate arrays of photovoltaic solar panels that are capable of generating 430 kilowatts of electricity.
The Board of Supervisors and county staff from the Public Works Department and the Administrator’s Office toured the solar sites on Oct. 15, and enjoyed lunch in the shade provided by the large, “solar roof” installed above the county parking lot on the corner of U.S. 395 and Edwards Street. The group then visited the solar arrays at the Inyo County Jail and the Juvenile Facility.
The substantial solar system will generate more than enough electricity to pay for itself.
Helping the solar math add up was a $1.3 million solar rebate from the Department of Water and Power, and a low-interest loan (1 percent interest over 15 years) from the California Energy Commission which covered the construction and installation costs, county officials said.
Using conservative estimates of the amount of power the panels will generate, and a conservative estimate of the future cost of electricity, the county should see a total savings of about $2.4 million over the next 25 years, said Assistant Public Works Director Jim Tatum. The financial picture is rosy from the start, since the cost of the construction was about $345,000 less than the total financing package of rebates and loans, he added. Plus, the first, $71,000 payment for the CEC loan is not due until December 2014.
After that initial boost, the county is looking at saving an estimated, average of $97,000 a year in “avoided costs” for electricity for the next 25 years. Of course, the cost savings are rather modest in the first few years, but as the price of electricity increases, the power generated by the solar arrays will increase in value, according to county projections.
Tatum, who oversaw installation of a large photovoltaic system at the Tri-County Fairgrounds when he was the director of the fairgrounds, said the estimated savings from the county system were based on “extremely conservative” projections. He said the county could easily see the actual amount of power generated by the system increase by 10-15 percent, with future electric costs also going up by the same percentage. If either of those predictions come to fruition, the financial benefits flowing from the solar system will also increase.
Getting the system sited, installed and paid for was a long-term project, and everyone involved said recently retired Public Works Project Manager Paul Hancock deserves a large share of the credit for seeing the project through. The project “wouldn’t have happened” without Hancock’s persistence and work, said Tatum. For long stretches of time, “Paul Hancock carried the project” virtually by himself, added CAO Kevin Carunchio.
Once the county settled on the final three sites, Hancock and the Public Works Department worked with TerraVerde Renewable Partners and SolarCity to complete the project.
The three solar sites have a combined capacity of 430 kilowatts, and will generate an estimated 687,224 kilowatt hours of electricity that will be used in three, large county buildings.
A snapshot of the potential savings and solar generation at the three sites was presented based on data showing the arrays’ power output and the buildings’ electric usage from the last week in September.
That data showed the 101-kilowatt Courthouse Annex parking lot rooftop solar installation will generate about one third of the building’s electricity usage; at the County Jail, the 238 kW array generated a little less than half of the electricity used at the jail; and at the Juvenile Center, the 91 kW array generated a little less than half of the facility’s total electricity usage. Tatum said the output from the Juvenile Facility array was impressive, considering the solar panels face west, not south, which is the standard alignment.
The public can check online and see how much electricity each array is generating every hour of the day, and how much electricity each building is using every hour of the day.
To follow the Courthouse Annex power situation, go to:
To follow the County Jail power situation, go to
To follow the Juvenile Facility power situation, go to
Power-watchers might want to bookmark those web pages, since Tatum warned watching the hourly power surges can be “addicting.”

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