Mount Diablo School District goes 90 percent solar
By the end of summer, the Mount Diablo Unified School District, just East of San Francisco, will have installed over 28,000 solar panels at 51 school sites, making it the largest school district in the world to get most, in this case 90 percent, of its power from the sun. Starting next school year, the 12.1 megawatts of solar power generated is projected to save the district more than $220 million over the next 30 years, or 90 percent of its electricity costs.
One commodity that Western Contra Costa County California has in abundance is sun, as thousands of hikers and other nature lovers who traverse the foothills of nearby Mount Diablo can attest. The school district that shares the Mountain’s name has decided to use its greatest natural resource to generate an estimated $6 million per year in energy savings and rebates from the California Solar Initiative.
“What we’ve done is put in parking shade structures,” said Howard Wagner, President of Sunpower, motioning to the steel shade structures topped by the latest in solar technology in the parking lot at Northgate High School in Walnut Creek. “They provide shade and protection for the cars. They don’t take any parking spaces at all and it just improves the parking area here.
“This is by far the largest school system we’ve ever done and that has ever been done I believe in the world. Instead of heating the cars up, we’re converting that sunlight into electricity with our panels,” Wagner continued.Sunpower won a bid in 2010 to install Mt Diablo’s panels.
Like School Districts statewide, Mt. Diablo faces a bleak future of millions of dollars of state funding cuts and slashed school programs. But, three years ago, District officials came up with the idea of offsetting projected budget cuts with savings from renewable energy. “We’re going to be generating about $6 million in these obviously difficult financial times in the State of California,” said Mount Diablo Schools Superintendent Steven Lawrence. “That’s huge and it’s equivalent to about 100 teaching positions.”
Lawrence said the District used funds from the local Measure C bond initiative, passed in 2010, and from the federal government’s Clean Renew able Energy Bonds program to pay for the structures.
He said the district’s 33,000 students will benefit the most by keeping programs that might otherwise be on the chopping block like music, arts and sports.
“It just puts funds in our general fund that allows us to continue programs for our students, be it classroom programs or extracurricular programs,” Lawrence said.
Sunpower has also committed to helping promising science, math and engineering students explore careers in renewable energy.
“It’s a great example for the students and we’re going to be hiring I guess 40 interns as part of this program,” said Howard Wagner. “We’re going to do our part here at Sunpower.”
Local students attending the ribbon cutting ceremony at Northgate High School in Walnut Creek earlier this month seemed to appreciate it.
“I think what’s great is that in our AP environmental science class, we had a project where we were able to model a sustainable city and I think we’re going to be the future,” said Northgate Senior and Student Body President Rahul Batra, sporting a Northgate t-shirt and a big smile. “We’re the next engineers out there and the next project managers that are actually going to be designing these things in the real world.”
Fellow student Adam Avalos likes the idea of his school being a clean energy leader.
“It’s fun to see our school, and the nation, take positive steps in renewable clean energy. It says a lot about us that we want to make the world a better place for our children and for ourselves.”
Students who plan on studying environmental science and renewable energy at college couldn’t have been more thrilled. “I hope I go into a field where I can work with sustainable technology and moving all communities forward to be like the Northgate Community,” said Tiffany Lay, Northgate Student Body Vice President.
Sunpower projects that the Mount Diablo School District’s solar panels will offset nearly 400,000 tons greenhouse gases over their 30 year lifespan. That’s the equivalent of taking over 70,000 cars off the road.
Source: Examiner (http://www.examiner.com/article/mount-diablo-school-district-goes-90-percent-solar-1)