Mountain View Voice

News - April 22, 2011

High school district goes solar for Earth Day

Mountain View-Los Altos celebrates installation of photovoltaic canopies

by Nick Veronin

In observance of Earth Day, the high school district is holding a dedication ceremony today, April 22, commemorating its newly installed, 1.26-megawatt solar panel system.

The ceremony, which begins at 9 a.m., will take place before a backdrop of the roughly 38,000 square feet of solar voltaic panels in the student parking lot of Los Altos High School.

In total the Mountain View-Los Altos Union High School District has installed 95,000 square feet of solar panels on elevated canopies in the parking lots at both Mountain View and Los Altos high schools.

"We hope to be a model for our community," district Superintendent Barry Groves said, noting that the ceremony was held on Earth Day because of the environmental benefits of solar power. "It's been a priority for the district to become as sustainable as possible."

In optimal conditions the solar panels will produce 1.26 megawatts of energy continually, and officials from Cupertino Electric, Inc., the company that installed the solar panels, estimate that over the estimated 25-year life span of the panels about 39.3 million kilowatt hours of electricity will be produced.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency's online greenhouse gas calculator, 39.3 million kilowatt hours could cover the electricity use of 3,296 U.S. homes for a whole year. Additionally, that amount of electricity, if it were generated by a coal-fired power plant, would end up releasing about 27,158 metric tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

Groves said that the solar panels will produce about 50 percent of the district's energy over their life span, and will ultimately save the about $500,000 on its power bill annually.

The project's estimated cost is $7 million — paid for with funds from the $41.3 million Measure A bond, which voters living in the district passed on June 8.

Steve Schumer, an engineering and development manager specializing in alternative energy for Cupertino Electric, said that solar energy projects are "very important" for his company.

Speaking from his personal experience — 45 years in the power industry — Schumer said that he doesn't think the world will see the end of fossil fuels "in my lifetime or in my grandchildren's lifetime." Nonetheless, he said, "It is absolutely essential that we continue to invest in renewable technology."

This project is an example of that "essential" investment, and Schumer hopes it may inspire the high school students who park their gasoline powered vehicles beneath the solar panel canopy on school days.

Making solar energy highly visible to the next generation is important, he said. "It will make renewable power a part of the kids' value system."

Having the system on campus will also help enrich the environmental science curriculum at the district's schools.

Groves said the students will be able to take pride in knowing that their schools are helping the environment, and they will be able to learn about green technology in the process.

"There's a curriculum that goes along with the solar panels that we will implement in our science classrooms," he said.

Science and environmental planning classes at both Mountain View and Los Altos high schools will have the opportunity to engage with PG&E and solar panel meters, in concert with energy management software, to track electricity generation and consumption on campus.

That makes lessons less abstract and more real when the students can reach out and touch the solar panels and see the real-life applications of the subject they are studying, Groves said.

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