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County’s PV Project Promises Reductions

Today’s blog is about an EnergyCAP user that is taking PV generation to another level.

Photovoltaics, or PV, is the third most significant renewable energy resource after hydro and wind power, according to Wikipedia. We’ve all seen PV—those jet-black solar panels gleaming from the roofs of public and commercial buildings or acres of land on solar farms. You or your neighbors may even have installed PV, taking advantage of various tax or utility incentives.


Riverside County, CA, is banking on a $54.6 million PV project to dramatically cut utility costs—while making the County the largest PV producer of its peers across the country.

OpTerra Energy, the company installing the solar systems, guarantees savings averaging $127,000 a year over a 20-year loan period, and that is ABOVE the savings generated to pay for the project itself!

According to David Danelski, staff writer for The Press Enterprise, the photovoltaic panels will be installed on new shade structures being built in parking lots at nine county facilities. There are also two ground-mounted sites.

The Riverside County PV project represents a perfect storm of low loan interest rates (3.3 percent), declining prices for solar panels, and favorable (sunny) prevailing weather conditions across the sprawling (7,303 sq miles) inland county, which is east of Los Angeles and includes popular resort destinations like Palm Springs. Ironically, California’s notoriously-high prices for electricity make the solar deal a bit sweeter.

But the real deal-maker is a unique tariff structure offered by the County’s electrical utility provider (Southern California Edison). The special rate—the result of a California law passed in 2008—was available to local government and school districts, and allowed the County to apply credits generated by the solar panels at multiple county-owned locations toward payment of the entire County’s electric bill.

In the past, California utilities did not give solar system owners credit for any amount of generated electricity in excess of what is used at the property where the system is installed. This limitation, which was a disincentive for smaller sites to compete with the utility by upping solar generating capacity, was largely abolished through legislation (AB 920, effective Jan. of 2011).

Thanks to the special Edison tariff, however, the County doesn’t have that limit. For instance, the largest PV site in the Riverside project (ground systems at the materials yard in Beaumont) will generate enough PV electricity to power nearly a thousand homes. But only about 5 percent of the electricity produced there will be used by the yard.

The Riverside project is a perfect illustration of the growing value of PV, especially in areas where weather is sunny, electricity is expensive, and public policy can be shaped to serve the creativity and industry of the people it affects. Riverside County taxpapers will reap the benefits of this well-conceived energy project.

See how another county is making a dent in electrical costs: