More Solar Panels for San Jose Schools

San Jose extended its commitment to renewable energy this week, with a ground breaking ceremony for a 3.7 MW solar project to be built at six school sites in the East Side Union High School District. The ceremony took place at Santa Teresa High School in San Jose, and was attended by district, government and business officials, as well as several student representatives.

When the six sites go online later this year, they are expected to reduce electric utility costs by more than $1.5 million in the first year, $7.6 million over five years, and provide total savings of $36 million over the life of the project.  Savings come from reduced electricity costs, and also from generous state incentives and additional revenues from the sale of renewable energy credits.  As for environmental benefits, the project is expected to reduce carbon emissions by more than 3,100 metric tons per year.

“Our schools will all benefit from these savings, especially in these tough economic times when they’re needed most,” said East Side Union High School District Interim Superintendent Dan Moser, in a press release issued Thursday. “Also, this project reduces our carbon footprint and allows us to incorporate solar into our teaching curriculum so our teachers and students can learn about renewable energy technologies firsthand.”

Through a series of workshops, the District’s teachers will learn how they can use hands-on solar kits and activity guides in the classroom to teach students about solar energy.

Chevron Energy Solutions (CES) will design, build, operate and maintain the solar system, which is expected to provide employment for 100 local union contractors. In 2008, Chevron and the San Jose Unified School District collaborated on another project: a 5.5 MW solar installation across 14 District sites, which is among the “largest solar power and energy-efficient facilities programs in K–12 education in the United States,” according to CES.

These projects demonstrate how many California school districts are starting to use solar projects to save money in an era of shrinking budgets. In an email to Triple Pundit, Tom Kelly from The Helios Project, a non-profit group focused on reducing fossil fuel use in California school districts, said he believes the time is right for solar powered schools:

“Statewide the availability of Qualified School Construction Bonds (QSCBs) – part of the stimulus package – and Clean Renewable Energy Bonds (CREBs) is fueling significant interest in photovoltaics (PV). This type of financing is so attractive that when combining it with reduced prices for PV panels, more competitive installation costs, and fairly robust rebates, public school are finding that solar can not only pay for itself, it can also be a revenue generator – a very important consideration in these difficult financial times.”

My professional experience over the past 20 years has taken me from Madison Avenue to Silicon Valley in various marketing research, marketing, business development and sales roles. I now work as a freelance environmental writer and researcher while pursuing an MBA in Sustainable Management at the Presidio Graduate School.I'm especially interested in the use of technology to address the issues of education, equality, environment, health, and economic development.You can keep tabs on me at Triple Pundit and the NY Times Green Inc blog, email me at jameswitkin@gmail.com, or find me typing away at the various coffee shops around Palo Alto.