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Solar power in Alameda County was first used in a large scale on the roof of the Santa Rita Jail, in 2004. At the time it was the largest photovoltaic (PV) installation in the United States. In all, solar power systems from PowerLight generate electricity for seven Alameda County facilities, including the Oakland Courthouse and the offices of county emergency services and environmental health services.


Santa Rita JailEdit

The Santa Rita Jail is one of the largest county jails in the USA. It houses 4,200 inmates and 500 staff near the suburb of Dublin, and its 1.18 MW, 3-acre (12,000 m2), installation is one of the largest solar roofs in the United States, and in 2004 when it was installed, was the largest solar photovoltaic installation in the country.[1][2]

When solar power was first considered for the jail in 2000, the economics were poor. Average electricity rates were less than 7 cents per kilowatt-hour, so in the first 500 kW phase of the project, PowerLight also offered energy efficiency improvements, such as a better water chiller for air-conditioning. The following year brought a summer of rolling blackouts and Enron market manipulation as California’s energy deregulation crisis hit, and electricity rates nearly doubled. Phase two didn't need any efficiency measures and added another 180 kW, and phase three (completed in 2002) involved an additional 500 kW.[1]

PV panels now generate as much as half of the jail’s peak power on sunny summer afternoons. Throughout the year, solar contributes an average of 20% of the daytime electricity and 12% overall, since solar panels can not harness any sun after dark.[1]


On Earth Day in 2006, the city of Oakland opened two systems, a 372 kWp system at the Oakland Ice Center, which generates a third of its electricity, and a 760 kWp system on the municipal service center in Coliseum Business Park which generates 82 percent of the building's energy use.[2]


Using a 20 year property assessment, Berkeley launched a pilot program through 2008-2009 to be the first city in the country to allow thousands of residents to obtain solar power without any initial payment. In the plan, property owners paid as much in increased property taxes as they save in energy costs, allowing them to install the panels for free at no cost to the city. Thirty eight projects were installed for the pilot stage of the program.[3] However, due to objections by Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae about liens with a higher repayment priority than mortgages, Berkeley has been unable to continue the plan.

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