Photo Credit: San Diego County

In a ceremony Monday, County Supervisor Greg Cox and Sheriff’s Commander Rich Miller switched on a 1-megawatt solar power system at the East Mesa Detention Facility in Otay Mesa.

The biggest photovoltaic system on County property, the East Mesa array is expected to save the County $1.3 million in power costs over 20 years.

“This used to be a bare parking lot; now it’s generating energy whenever the sun’s out,” Supervisor Greg Cox said. “It’s a smart and painless way for the County to save taxpayer money while tapping into a sustainable, clean power source.”

The photovoltaic system is mounted on dozens of steel canopies that spread across the parking lot and shade visitors’ cars. The solar panels will produce an estimated 1.6 million kilowatt hours of energy in the first year, or about 12 percent of the detention complex’s total power needs.

The East Mesa detention complex includes the George Bailey Detention Center and the East Mesa Juvenile Detention Center.
“Jails are 24-7 operations, and by their very nature they need a lot of energy,” Sheriff Bill Gore said. “Under AB 109, we’ll be housing more felons locally and facing increased jail costs, so we’re glad for the new power savings.”

The system’s clean energy represents about 843 tons of greenhouse gases that would otherwise enter the atmosphere each year. That’s equivalent to not driving more than 1.7 million miles each year or planting over 19,600 trees.

The solar power plant is part of a power purchase agreement in which SunEdison finances, constructs, operates and maintains the system with no upfront costs from the County. In return, the County purchases the energy produced at long-term predictable rates, which are expected to be below market value, for 20 years.

The East Mesa solar power system is the second large photovoltaic system built on County property this year. In February, officials turned on a 359 kilowatt SDG&E-owned solar system at the County Operations Center in Kearny Mesa.

The County owns 10 other photovoltaic systems that provide clean energy to diverse facilities such as the North County Regional Center, the Fallbrook Community Center and the Ramona Library.