Solar breaking into the prison market

California’s prisons and state hospitals are increasingly becoming energy independent as the state Department of General Services pursues power purchase agreements for solar installations on large swaths of unused adjacent land and rooftops.

California prisons going slarCalifornia’s prisons and state hospitals are increasingly becoming energy independent as the state Department of General Services pursues power purchase agreements for solar installations on large swaths of unused adjacent land and rooftops.

SunEdison has installed 18.4 megawatts of solar on California Department of Corrections grounds in the last six years and the state is still ramping up its program and looking for more potential projects to pitch to its shortlist of qualified companies.

“It started in 2001 after Enron and the rolling blackouts,” said Eric Lamoureux, spokesman for the Department of General Services. “We started looking at distributed generation then.”

They started with requests for proposals and ultimately tested the waters with a few small projects. Through third parties, the state installed 8 megawatts of solar in the first phase between 2004 and 2008. As phase two wraps up this year, the state has installed eight projects since 2008 for a total of 18.5 megawatts of solar.

“Now we’re looking ahead to phase three projects,” Lamoureux said. The state has already awarded 14 projects for a total of 28.5 megawatts of solar that should be completed in 2013.

“Of course, some of those may not pan out,” said Steve Nowell, project manager for DGS. “There could be issues we can’t work out. When you look at an aerial view of 600 acres, you think ‘hey, we can just plunk it down right there.’ But it’s not always that easy.”

Lamoureux said the 14 projects planned for the coming year is just the beginning. He is working on putting together a list of projects to put our for a request for bids form a list of 13 approved vendors.

California Governor Jerry Brown issued a directive for state agencies to reduce energy usage by 20 percent by 2018. That combined with a push for onsite generation at critical facilities like the state’s prisons, suggests there’s not likely to be a slowdown in solar installations at the state institutions.

Nowell said early projects that were smaller in size probably provide about 5 percent of each facility’s demand while newer projects provide significantly more. “Prisons are a 24/7 operating every day of the year all day use,” Nowell said. “But if you average it all out, it’s probably closer to the 25 percent range.”

As the state continues to install distributed renewable generation at prison and hospital facilities, it will move toward Brown’s directive goal. “It’s probably too early to tell where this gets us toward that 20 percent goal,” Lamoureux said. “But it’s certainly significant.”

 

 

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