The switch that solidifies Ventura’s title as a city on the cutting edge of environmental innovation has officially been flipped.

That switch, literally flipped from off to on Dec. 1 by city councilmen Brian Brennan and James Monahan, powers a brand new emissions-free solar electric system at the Ventura Department of Public Works Maintenance Yard, at 336 Sanjon Road. At its peak, the 123 kilowatt system generates enough energy to power 120 homes, according to information released by the public works department.

“This is significant in the sense that it’s a large municipal application of solar power,” said Andrew Powers, marketing specialist for the City of Ventura. “It follows the trend of a lot of other environmental issues we’ve been addressing.” The city, Powers added, took a similar step in the right direction when it acquired two electric and six hybrid vehicles for its fleet. Ventura is the first city in Ventura County to make the switch from traditional electric to solar electric power.

But while the maintenance yard’s solar array is capable of generating the energy needed to power those 120 homes, the energy generated by the new system will be used solely at the maintenance yard, a chunk of city property that includes several offices and houses various pieces of city equipment. The new solar array will provide 40 percent of the electricity used at the yard, which will parlay into $20,000 annual savings, according to the public works department.

“This is really an example of how the public can do the right thing,” Brennan said. “Pursuing energy independence is a key objective of Ventura, consistent with our leadership in the ‘smart growth’ movement.”

Additionally, the city officials estimate that the new array could save the city as much as $600,000 during the 30-year lifetime of the system and reduce carbon dioxide emissions by roughly 1,200 tons. That reduction is equivalent to planting 330 acres of trees, removing about 230 cars from the streets, or not driving three million miles on Ventura roadways, according to the public works department.

Purchase and installation of the solar array was funded by the city with assistance from Southern California Edison and low-interest loans from the California Energy Commission, Brennan said.

Dan Shugar, president of PowerLight Solar Electric Systems, the maker of Ventura’s solar array, said the city can only stand to benefit by going solar. “By deploying solar, not only is the city … saving taxpayers’ dollars, they’re also reducing pressure on the electrical grid, especially during peak demand times.”

City officials believe that the city’s use of solar energy will improve the reliability of the area’s electric system by “diversifying the power supply, offsetting peak demand and shielding Ventura from price volatility.” Powers said residents also choosing to go solar could improve the existing energy system to an even greater extent. “If more of the community could get involved in this, it could benefit us even more,” he said.

Ventura’s new solar electric canopy, which is composed of 650 super-thin solar panels, looks a lot like a grand carport and creates 8,000 square-feet of warehouse storage. The photovoltaic canopy “spares the environment from tons of harmful emissions, such as nitrogen oxides, sulfur dioxide and carbon dioxide, which are major contributors to smog, acid rain and global warming,” according to PowerLight.