The Tribune: SLO County takes ‘significant step’ to reaching renewable energy goals
There’s a new field of solar panels on the side of Highway 1 in San Luis Obispo County.
The six acres of 3,294 newly installed solar panels at the San Luis Obispo County Operations Center will propel the county toward its renewable energy goals while saving on electricity costs, the county said.
The 1.2-megawatt solar project will provide electricity for 12 county facilities including the San Luis Obispo County Jail, Juvenile Services Center, the Sheriff’s Office and other public works, information services and fleet facilities located at the County Operations Center on Kansas Avenue.
“This project is a significant step forward to reaching our county goal of procuring 20% of our energy from renewable sources,” Annie Secrest, energy and water coordinator for San Luis Obispo County, said in a news release Tuesday.
Three years ago, Secrest said, the county did not receive any electricity from renewable sources. Now, with the addition of the new solar farm, the county procures more than 12% of its electricity from renewable sources, she said.
This is not the first field of solar panels to be installed along Highway 1 north of San Luis Obispo. Cal Poly receives about 25% of its electricity from an 18.5-acre, 4.5 megawatt solar farm completed in 2018 and located near the California Men’s Colony.
Through a power purchase agreement, the county’s solar panel project was developed by and is owned by ForeFront Power, a solar and energy storage company based in San Francisco. That means that the electricity produced there will be bought by the county at a set price per kilowatt-hour, according to the news release.
“This allows the county to purchase electricity at a lower rate than it could obtain from the local utility, and without incurring the upfront or ongoing costs for installing the solar project,” the news release said.
The county will pay $0.099 per kilowatt hour for the electricity from the solar panels, Secrest said, which is much lower than the $0.2312 it paid for the electricity previously.
Secrest noted that an added bonus is the electricity costs from the solar panels will stay stable year over year, whereas rates from utility companies like PG&E typically go up each year.
Over the next 20 years, the solar panels are expected to offset nearly 74 million pounds of carbon dioxide normally emitted into the atmosphere from fossil-fuel burning electricity methods — and save the county an estimated $6 million in net savings.
“The Sheriff’s Office spends about half a million dollars a year on electricity out here on Kansas Avenue,” said San Luis Obispo County Sheriff Ian Parkinson in a video announcing the completion of the new solar farm. “This field here provides for supplementing that power, and we are receiving about 75% of what is produced here to offset our costs. So it’s going to be taxpayer savings and allows us to keep the lights on and provide public safety for the county.”
The solar panel project “generates enough electricity to avoid an additional 1,735 metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions each year,” a news release about the panels said. “This is roughly equivalent to removing 375 gas-powered passenger vehicles from the road annually, or to the amount of carbon sequestered by 2,266 acres of nearby forest in one year.”
County Supervisor Bruce Gibson said in the video that there may be more solar panel projects, as well as energy conservation measures, down the road.
“San Luis Obispo County is an innovator, a midsize county that has done a lot of really exciting things in recent years,” he said. “The solar project is one of the things I’m most proud of.”
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