Mt. Diablo schools all over Contra Costa County will begin soaking up the sun’s rays and cutting their power bills beginning this fall. By spring 2012, the district plans to have solar panels at 51 district sites.
This summer, contractors under San Jose-based SunPower Corp. are boring holes and building vertical structural supports for the parking lot shades that will hold solar panels, said Pete Pedersen, special projects manager for Measure C Funds.
The first set of solar panels at 17 schools now under construction, including Mt. Diablo, Concord, College Park and Northgate high schools as well as Monte Gardens, Cambridge, and Delta View elementary schools, are Phase 1 of a three-phase project that the district hopes to complete by April 2012.
“We’re trying to do the first 17 and get most of the next 17’s vertical steel structures done before school starts to minimize the disruption,” said Pedersen.
Almost all the solar panels will go on the roofs of the parking lot shades, not on school buildings, Pedersen said.
Money for the $70 million solar project is being paid for with proceeds from the voter-approved $348 million Measure C bond.
According to the district’s April budget presentation the district expects to save $200 million in energy costs over the 30-year life of the project. In addition, the district expects to receive about $16 million over five years from the California Solar Initiative, said Superintendent Steve Lawrence – and these funds are locked in against state budget cuts.
Lawrence said the district expects to funnel about $8 million in saved costs back into its general fund, beginning with the 2012-2013 fiscal year. The general fund is used to pay salaries and buy books, among other recurring district costs.
In choosing a contractor, Pedersen had the help of an advisory board that included an electrical engineer, an attorney with expertise with solar projects, and two members of the Measure C Advisory Committee, Lawrence said. The board chose SunPower Corp. because it has 20 years experience, financial stability, and has worked with public agencies, he said.