How Going Solar is Helping California County Save Millions — and Raise Revenue

By:Bruce Dickinson

August 3, 2016

A SunPower solar installation in Yolo County, Calif., that helps the county make more energy than it uses.

Editors Note: In 2020, SunPower announced the completion of the strategic spin-off of its manufacturing division into a separate business named Maxeon Solar Technologies, Ltd. As a result, SunPower has expanded its offerings to drive future growth. The SunPower Equinox® system now offers multiple panel options, including front- and back-contact panels, all of which are responsibly and rigorously quality tested to provide the best energy solution for your home.

Faced with lean budgets and skyrocketing energy prices, a small county in Northern California needed to drastically reduce its energy bills to avoid having to cut services to its residents.

So, Yolo County, California, population 200,000, partnered with SunPower and switched to clean, renewable solar energy, achieving national recognition for being the first net positive county in the United States. The forward-thinking county not only eliminated its electric bill by going solar, it now makes more power than it uses and generates extra revenue.

Watch this inspirational video featuring Terry Vernon, deputy director of Yolo County General Services and the man behind Yolo County’s transformation to energy independence, improved fiscal stability and environmental sustainability.

California county government goes solar with SunPower

In 2010, Yolo County, just west of Sacramento, was facing a mounting annual electricity bill of $1.4 million and a recession that was drying up tax revenues. The county needed to reduce expenses or it would be forced to cut vital services to residents.

“We had to find a solution that required zero-capital investment because we didn’t have any capital,” Vernon said. “It would have to pay for itself from the very first day.”  

Yolo County installed 6.8 megawatts of SunPower® solar in two phases: A 1 megawatt solar power system at the Yolo County Justice Campus in 2010 and three additional arrays totaling an additional 5.8 megawatts, completed in 2013.

All of the projects were installed using innovative financing that ensured the solar systems were net positive from the start. The county is expected to generate $60 million in revenue in the next 35 years from the excess power it sells back to the grid.

Solar is Helping California County Save Millions

Vernon says today the county generates enough clean, solar power to meet 152 percent of its electricity needs, avoiding 12,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions each year.

“If we wouldn’t have turned to solar, our financial situation would be very different,” explained Vernon. “With the amount of power our county uses today, our bill would be nearly $3 million per year. Instead, we’re actually seeing positive cash flow that’s grown every year. The savings and the revenue we generate all relates directly to services for citizens of the county.”