Air Quality

Published on March 21st, 2010 | by Susan Kraemer


Recovery Act + Greenhouse-Gas Executive Order to Solar Power Alcatraz, Other National Parks

March 21st, 2010 by  

Alcatraz Island in the San Francisco Bay is ending its $700,000-per-year diesel habit. It will replace the fossil fuel with a clean, fifty-year supply of free solar fuel this Spring. Two belching diesel generators that have till now provided the electricity to keep the lights on will be put out to pasture.


Alcatraz, like all the National Parks, is subject to President Obama’s  Executive Order requiring that all Federal Agencies must reduce their greenhouse gas emissions 30% by 2020, which can be accomplished by replacing fossil energy with renewable energy. Alcatraz is managed by the Golden Gate National Recreation Area.

The Recovery Act (ARRA) green stimulus funds will fund the project. Last year, the National Park Service received $754 million in stimulus funding that can help it achieve the carbon reduction mandate, nationwide. It had a spare $129 million at the end, which will fund 68 more projects, including solar power for Alcatraz Island.

The switch to fifty years of free fuel will also save taxpayers serious money over the next decades.

A total of 1,360 solar panels will go on the main prison and laundry building at Alcatraz Island.  The estimated 896 solar panels planned for the main prison roof will be obscured because there are walls roughly five feet high around the top. The remaining 464 panels on the laundry building will be more visible. Together the two arrays comprise a 285 KW solar power system, to supply an initial 60% of the electricity needs of the Island.

“The long-term goal is to create a fully sustainable island that uses 100 percent renewable energy,” said Michael Feinstein, a spokesman for the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, which oversees Alcatraz.

Even knocking out 60% of the fuel cost will save the taxpayer significantly over the next decades.

A solar system that size, with the lower prices of solar panels now, should achieve payback in well under ten years (and faster if it was sized to cover 100% of the electricity needed instead of 60%) because fossil fuel prices, with peak oil somewhere ahead, are likely to keep rising.

Hundreds of National Park Service projects were eligible for the ARRA funds, and bids on the projects were so much lower than expected, that the park service ended up with an extra $129 million, so 68 new projects are to be funded, including Alcatraz; along with solar power for Death Valley National Park and Point Reyes National Seashore.

Gerry-rigged policy substitutes for climate legislation

For now, and for Federal Agencies; the carrot (of Recovery Act stimulus funds) and the stick (the Executive Order mandating the 30% cuts in greenhouse gas emissions by 2020) are achieving what could be achieved long-term, with good climate legislation.

Image: Obama on renewable energy goals

Source: San Jose Mercury News

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About the Author

writes at CleanTechnica, CSP-Today and Renewable Energy World.  She has also been published at Wind Energy Update, Solar Plaza, Earthtechling PV-Insider , and GreenProphet, Ecoseed, NRDC OnEarth, MatterNetwork, Celsius, EnergyNow, and Scientific American. As a former serial entrepreneur in product design, Susan brings an innovator's perspective on inventing a carbon-constrained civilization: If necessity is the mother of invention, solving climate change is the mother of all necessities! As a lover of history and sci-fi, she enjoys chronicling the strange future we are creating in these interesting times.    Follow Susan on Twitter @dotcommodity.

  • Jade in San Francisco

    I live in San Francisco and have the pleasure of seeing Alcatraz every day on my way to and from work. Now I have a nice little story tell tourists who ask me questions about Alcatraz. Anything to get rid of dirty diesel generated electricity is fine by me.

    Distributed solar is the wave of the future.

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