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SLO County flips switch on its largest solar energy project

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Courtesy of Annie Secrest
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The County of San Luis Obispo launched its new solar energy project at the County Operations Center on April 20, 2021

The County of San Luis Obispo just completed a major solar energy project at the County Operations Center on April 20.

The project is expected to help save the county money on its electricity bills and is the county’s largest at 1.2 megawatts. According to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, that is enough to power about 500 to 1100 homes, but in this case it will power county facilities.

The project includes 3,294 solar panels, ground mounted on six acres of land parallel to highway one, east of the County Honor Farm and Animal Services.

Annie Secrest, the energy and water coordinator for the County of San Luis Obispo, said the ultimate goal for this project is to save the county money, so it can better serve its citizens.

“By locking in the lower price per kilowatt hour for this project, for the next 20 years, we're saving the taxpayers a significant amount of money on what we, the county, are paying for electricity” Secrest said. “That allows us, then, to use that money on other services, like providing Sheriff and crime prevention services or social services to the community – things like that.”

The county anticipates this project will yield significant electricity savings and cost stability across 8 departments: the Sheriff’s Department, Animal Services, Public Works, Probation, IT, Central Services, Workers Compensation, and Facility Management. Over the next 20 years, the county expects the project to offset almost 74 million pounds of carbon dioxide and yield almost $6 million in net savings in energy costs.

According to Secrest, the electricity net savings motivated the county to move forward with a solar project, in particular.

“We're looking for ways to reduce those costs, and we had implemented some energy efficiency projects in the past, but in order to really make a difference in the amount of money that we're paying, we started looking at solar,” Secrest said.

Secrest said the county didn’t want to compromise the beauty of the scenic highway. The design of the solar field incorporates native plants and a natural colored fence to encase the project and soften the view.

“This project, actually, I think, is a really great example of how CEQA – the California Environmental Quality Act – how CEQA is there to protect the views and maintain the environmental integrity of an area,” Secrest said.

This electricity project is powered by ForeFront Power, which energized the county’s first two solar energy projects in 2020.

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