CDCR Continues Clean-Energy Drive

Photos courtesy of CDCR
BLYTHE, Calif. — The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation continued its clean-energy initiative as officials activated a new 1.18-megawatt solar power installation in the Sonoran Desert that is expected to offset 25 percent of Ironwood State Prison’s total energy demand.

The $6.2 million ground-mounted photovoltaic system, developed through a public-private partnership between the CDCR and Maryland-based solar energy services provider Sun Edison, will deliver 2.4 million kilowatt-hours of clean energy during the first year of operation, officials say.

The Ironwood installation incorporates 6,200 computer-controlled solar panels designed to track and rotate with the arc of the sun to produce reliable clean-energy, officials say.

“Leveraging our most plentiful natural resource, the desert sun, while protecting a limited local resource, water, makes both environmental and fiscal sense for Ironwood and California taxpayers,” says Ironwood Warden Debra Dexter.

The CDCR is evaluating 10 other facilities for similar clean-energy solar projects, including the 5,900-inmate California Correctional Institution in Tehachapi, the 5,400-inmate North Kern State Prison in Delano, the 5,900-inmate Wasco State Prison in Wasco and two female facilities with a combined 8,100 inmates in Chowchilla.

Sun Edison is among four companies vying for contracts to develop the proposed installations.

“I don’t see us stopping until we’ve examined every facility throughout the state,” says Harry Franey, chief of the CDCR’s Energy Management and Sustainability Section. “But it’s not just about solar; there’s also great potential for wind turbines or geo-thermal.”

Sun Edison financed and constructed the Ironwood installation as part of a solar power services agreement, which allowed the CDCR to avoid upfront capital investment and will save an estimated $50,000 per year in utility costs. The solar installation is sited on 13 acres of unused land inside the facility’s secure perimeter.

“I count it as a win-win situation in that we’re benefiting the environment and our community and we’re not using taxpayer dollars to fund the project,” Dexter says.

Under the agreement, Sun Edison will operate and maintain the system at Ironwood, and the CDCR will purchase the solar energy generated on-site at predictable prices, equal to or less than market rates.

In 2006, the CDCR activated a 1.16-MW solar energy installation at Chuckawalla Valley State Prison — a 3,900-inmate medium-security facility located on 1,700 acres less then one mile from Ironwood — under a similar solar power services agreement with Sun Edison.

The photovoltaic system at Chuckawalla, which has produced more than 3.7 million kwh of energy since its activation, will produce an estimated 36 million kwh and offset more than 31 million pounds of carbon emissions during a 20-year period of operation, officials say.

However, the solar panels at Ironwood use a computer-controlled tracking system to lock on to the sun earlier than the system at Chuckawalla, Franey says. The more technologically advanced Ironwood system also maximizes output sooner and optimizes performance as light diminishes later in the day.

The Ironwood system will produce an estimated 43 million kwh of solar energy during the next 20 years — enough energy to power 4,107 households for one year, according to reports.

“In light of the budgetary situation in California, we would not have been able to fund a project this large,” Dexter says. “Partnering with Sun Edison through an energy services agreement allowed us to get this project up and running.”

Located 200 miles east of Los Angeles near the Arizona state line, the 700-acre Ironwood complex houses more than 4,500 minimum- and medium-security inmates in four housing units. The solar-energy system will produce no carbon emissions and yield a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions equivalent to the removal of 3,770 automobiles annually, officials say.

Representatives of Sun Edison and CDCR officials flip the switch on Ironwood’s $6 million solar installation.
“This is truly a long-term partnership, where the solar power produced at Ironwood will support our partner’s commitment to being a good community neighbor,” says Thomas Rainwater, CEO of Sun Edison.

Under executive order S-20-04, signed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger in July 2004, state agencies in California are required to evaluate clean and renewable on-site energy production technologies for all new construction and large renovation projects.

The power produced as a result of the public-private partnership allows the CDCR to meet its environmental goals and those of the state of California, says Deborah Hysen, CDCR chief deputy secretary for facilities, planning and construction.

“We’re helping to clean the air, and simultaneously relieve some of the ever-increasing pressure on the electric utility grid,” Hysen says.
The executive order mandates that state agencies enact “measures to reduce grid-based energy purchases by 20 percent by 2015, through cost-effective efficiency measures and distributed generation technologies.”

“It’s not that difficult to meet LEED certification criteria, particularly if you incorporate environmentally sustainable or renewable energy elements during the design phase of a project,” Franey says.

The semi-arid climate, desert location and large acreage enjoyed by many of the state’s 33 prisons makes them well suited to the siting of land-intensive solar energy installations.

The financial markets, state and federal tax codes and incentives from utilities make renewable-energy projects, like these solar installations, very attractive right now, Franey says.

“The CDCR can provide the cash flow necessary for investors to meet the capital requirements associated with this type of project,” he says.

The CDCR is a member of the California Climate Action Registry, a nonprofit organization formed as part of the statewide initiative to encourage government agencies, private companies and other organizations to voluntarily measure and report their greenhouse gas emissions.

Signed into law by Gov. Schwarzenegger in 2006, California’s landmark AB 32 legislation — the Global Warming Solutions Act — established the California Air Resources Board to develop a comprehensive program of regulatory and market mechanisms designed to achieve real, quantifiable, cost-effective reductions in greenhouse gases to mitigate and reverse climate change.

Under the law, carbon emissions must be reduced to 25 percent below 1990 levels by the year 2020 and to 80 percent below 1990 levels by 2050. AB 32 requires mandatory caps on significant sources of greenhouse gas emissions to begin in 2012.

“AB 32 recognizes that we have a significant carbon footprint and mandates that we take action to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions,” Franey says. California is the 12th largest emitter of carbon in the world.

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