Students take pride in solarStudents at Mountain View and Los Altos high schools are beginning to learn a lot more about solar energy this year, and not just from textbooks. Instructors will soon be using the school's own solar panel installation to show students firsthand how energy is created from the sun's rays.
The program was made possible by voters who, despite the sour economy, on June 8 approved a $41.3 million bond issue that included $7 million to install 95,000 square feet of solar panels in the parking lots at the two high schools. The panels will produce 1.27 megawatts of energy a year — 755 kilowatts on the Mountain View campus and 515 at the Los Altos school. That is enough to power 10 homes for an entire year, and it ultimately will save the high school district an estimated $250,000 a year in electrical costs, school officials say.
At the recent ground-breaking of the project, Joe Mitchner, president of the district's board of trustees, said, "It's a good thing to do for the environment and it sets an example for the students."
According to district Superintendent Barry Groves, the solar installation will be accompanied by a curriculum that will be taught in the science classrooms at both high schools. Students will have a chance to see PG&E and solar energy meters and be able to keep track of electricity use and generation on the campus.
Students also are excited about the idea of being able to monitor their school's solar project. One told the Voice: "It will be cool for the future students to go out in the parking lot and see how it actually works, firsthand."
Students have been enthusiastic about the solar project from the beginning, showing their support by working on the campaign to pass the Measure A bond issue. Students distributed flyers and made "Yes on Measure A" buttons, and worked hard to convince every 18-year-old student to vote for it.
Joe White, the associate superintendent of business services who was deeply involved with the project, said he hopes learning about the solar panels will inspire students to seek careers in alternative energy.
The solar project is a winner all around. Students gain covered parking areas with solar panels on top, as well as a curriculum that explains the photovoltaic process. The school district gains a solar installation that saves money on energy and can be used as a teaching tool to explain how solar energy works, a hot topic these days, especially for young students. And the district gains by having its two schools moving a good portion of their energy needs off the grid in a very public setting that sets a good example for other large institutions to follow.