About 25 miles east of Los Angeles, the Forest Service’s San Dimas Technology Development Center is ready to start operations using a photovoltaic array to supply the buildings there with a potential 600,000 kilowatt hours of current each year.
“This system has made the San Dimas Center a ‘net-zero energy’ facility, the first in the U.S. Department of Agriculture,” explained Forest Service Chief, Tom Tidwell. “This means the facility produces more renewable energy per year than the total energy used by the facility.”
This solar power generation system was constructed with $1,084,894 from the Recovery Act, and $371,143 of capital investment funds appropriated for the Forest Service. It incorporates 1,288 solar panels located on 1.5 acres. The facility includes five structures with a total of 32,800 square feet.
The excess energy will enter the electrical grid creating a monetary credit with the local electrical utility. This monetary credit is expected to meet the electrical costs of the Angeles National Forest Supervisor’s Office in Arcadia, Calif. The total electrical energy generated by this system will save the Forest Service over $100,000 annually and should pay for itself within 10 years with a savings of at least $1.5 to $2 million over its cost.
As part of its goal of becoming a “net-zero energy” facility, the center contracted several energy saving projects including the replacement of a 45-year-old heating, ventilation, and air conditioning system in the administration building and the installation of energy-efficient fluorescent lamps, occupancy sensors, and electrical plug load strips. These items were installed by contract with the California Conservation Corps, enabling the 18- to 23-year-old workers to develop marketable skills while earning needed income.
San Dimas Technology Development Center is one of two National Technology and Development Centers in the Forest Service. One of its functions is to adapt new technologies to directly meet the needs of the agency. Lessons learned during the design, installation, and connection of this new system through the local utility to the electric grid will be reported to all of the Forest Service. This information will assist the agency to increase the rate at which its facilities are converted to using renewable energy sources.
Other center projects are focused on increasing the safety of wildland firefighters and other forest workers, as well as enhancing the outdoor experience for the many public visitors to the national forests and grasslands.