Merced County corrections powered by new solar system

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Merced County corrections powered by new solar systemMerced County, Calif., fipped the switch on its 1.4-megawatt solar array at its detention facility in El Nido last week.

“At the heart, it was a matter of fiscal stewardship,” said Kelly Fergusson, a clean energy business development manager for Siemens Building Technologies. “All the counties in California are struggling financially today, and they saw an opportunity to significantly reduce the amount on the check they were writing to the utility company every month.”

Money was available for energy efficiency retrofits and renewable energy projects. The detention center also had plenty of flat and available land adjacent to it that could be developed for solar.

Siemens contracted with Collins Electric, Suntrek, Phase One Construction and Volvo Rents to install the more than 6,000 solar panels on 4.5 acres adjacent to the correctional facility. The project will supply about 70 percent of the facilities energy at its peak consumption, according to a release from Siemens.

“That 70 percent was the sweet spot,” Fergusson said. “We know there are some more opportunities for energy saving there.”

In addition to arranging the solar array, Siemens coordinated a full retrofit of the facility’s lighting.

“The first step is always to reduce the amount of energy you’re consuming,” Fergusson said. “The idea was to reduce the demand.”

She said the facility also has an aging HVAC system that it will look at replacing in the near future. That and other energy-efficiency measures should bring the facility’s energy consumption down to a range where the 1.4-megawatt solar array can cover 100 percent of its use.

The solar array itself consists of 6,272 solar photovoltaic flat panels. The project is expected to save the county almost $14 million over its 25-year life and will contribute to an overall cash-flow boost of more than $8 million for Merced County, according to the release.

State solar incentives and a PG&E Capital Improvement Rebate made the project possible.