My friend half jokingly refers to the inland portion of Central California as "Valley of the Cons" because prisons employ so many people here. The state Department of Corrections is listed as major employers in Madera, Fresno, Kings and Kern counties, according to the state Employment Development Department.
Coalinga, Corcoran and Chowchilla are home to some pretty large correctional facilities. Then there are the smaller county jails. Both kinds of lockups face the same dilemma: shrinking budgets. Maybe Solar Valley can meet Valley of the Cons. Sixty miles to my north is Merced County, where officials thought up a way to slash power bills, contribute to the state's ambitious 33 percent renewables mandate and make a few bucks. They signed a deal with Siemens to put solar panels at a county jail. More on that here.
The idea of using solar energy at prisons isn't new. In 2001, GreenBiz.com wrote about this project in Alameda County, and state officials are planning solar panels at prisons in Delano and Tehachapi, both in Kern County (also Blythe and Lancaster, according to this story ).
The solar array in Merced County will cover 4.5 acres, offset 75 percent of the power usage at the John Latorraca Correctional Facility and Iris Garrett Juvenile Justice Correctional Complex, will lead to an estimated $14 million in energy savings over 25 years and could create $9 million of positive cash flow over the same 25 years. It also will eliminate about 1,000 tons of CO2 emissions when combined with lighting upgrades implemented by Siemens.
The county will receive solar incentives totalling $1.5 million over five years, and is eligible for PG&E's capital improvement rebate.
Powering jails with solar energy is only one way that local governments can slash utility costs. Increasingly, cities and counties are using solar energy to save money at their biggest energy hogs: water treatment plants.
SunPower Corp. has finished deals at water operations in Los Angeles, Riverside and Sacramento counties, according to this article in pv Magazine, but they are hardly isolated cases. Similar connections are in place in Parlier, Tulare and Madera in the San Joaquin Valley. Learn more here.
The San Joaquin Valley, where I sit, is blessed with lots of sun. But that sun also creates triple-digit temperatures in the summer, which leads to high power bills and high energy use. Utilizing the rich solar resource to attack the high power bills makes sense here. That's why officials at UC Merced, which has a top-notch solar research program, unofficially dubbed this region "Solar Valley."
That certainly sounds better than "Valley of the Cons."
Photo: Aerial view of Tulare wastewater treatment plant