News and analysis about energy in California with an eye toward renewables.

Forest Service Goes Off-Grid... in the Suburbs

Forest Service solar panels in San Dimas | Photo: USDA/Flickr/Creative Commons License

It's not all that hard to imagine a facility of the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) generating all of its own power from solar panels. After all, the USFS has a whole lot of facilities in the back of beyond, from offices to outhouses, that are well away from the benefits of civilization and electrical transmission. But the Forest Service's announcement today that one of its facilities is now power-self-reliant with solar panels is a little unusual: That facility is in the middle of the suburban San Gabriel Valley.

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As of September 19, the USFS's San Dimas Technology Development Center will be powered entirely by solar panels set up on one and a half acres of the grounds. The site's 1,288 new solar panels will not only generate enough electricity to run the San Dimas center, but will sell enough extra power to help offset electric bills at the Angeles National Forest Supervisor's Office in Arcadia.

The panels were installed with the help of a little over $1 million in stimulus funding, and will save considerably more than that over the lifetime of the project -- about $100,000 each year in avoided electric bills. In addition, the USFS embarked on an aggressive energy conservation plan at the facility with the help of California Conservation Corps workers, including weatherizing buildings, upgrading air conditioning and lighting, and installing occupancy sensors in rooms.

"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 in a blog post on the USDA site. The Forest Service is overseen by the Department of Agriculture.

The San Dimas Center, founded in Arcadia in the 1940s as a firefighting technology study center, now hosts research on scientific aspects of National Forest land management from firefighters' safety to engineering codes for scenic highways to advances in bearproof trash container technology. The Center moved to its current 18-acre site in 1965.

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About the Author

Chris Clarke is a natural history writer and environmental journalist currently at work on a book about the Joshua tree. He lives in Joshua Tree.
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