The Mono Basin National Forest Scenic Area Visitors Center is a large public building that is used by more than 140,000 visitors a year. With steeply rising utility costs over the last decade limited funding for operational costs were suggesting shorter operating hours and reduced seasonal openings to save money. To avoid limiting public services, the Forest Service began to explore alternative solutions.
Situated in a climate where the sun shines an average of 289 days of the year, installation of a photovoltaic power system for the visitor center offered a logical opportunity to cut energy costs and reduce the agency’s carbon footprint. In 2010, Forest Service Recovery Act funding offered the opportunity for the investment for the energy and money saving technology.
As the first congressionally designated National Forest Scenic Area, the Forest Service determined that it was critical to design the system in a way that met the building’s energy needs while preserving scenic integrity. An innovative design was developed and the system was successfully installed in the summer of 2011.
Final agreements on power distribution and generation were made with the local utility company, Southern California Edison, in early 2012 and the system is now supplying the visitor center with an estimated 46 percent of its annual electricity needs.
In addition to seeing a reduction in monthly utility costs, the Forest Service will also receive a rebate through the California Solar Initiative program. The Forest expects to use the rebate funds to offset the cost of further energy-efficient upgrades for forest facilities.