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School Solar Panels Are Under Construction

Mt. Diablo, Concord, Northgate high schools among 17 MDUSD sites to capture sun's rays by fall.

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.

William Carman July 23, 2011 at 05:52 PM
Put a security camera up overlooking the panels. In Lafayette it only took a few days for thieves to steal the finished product.
Robert Elliott July 23, 2011 at 07:14 PM
If you don't succeed at 1st, try, try, again ? Down the road is this going to turn into another Altamont Pass fiasco ?? The idea of saving money/costs is a great idea. But nothing in life is free. These panels will have to be maintained, serviced and repaired, and then what. Is that the 1st thing to go when the school district has a financial crunch and they need to cut operating costs. If you have ever driven through the Altamont Pass you can see all of the wind turbines littering the hills, not working, and falling apart due to zero maintainence cause of cost cuts. And just how many years will it take before these solar panels pay for itself. The Altamont Pass wind turbines never did and they were all installed and put on line in the mid 70's. All in all, not a very good idea of what to do with Concords revenues.
Norm Rhett July 23, 2011 at 07:54 PM
With the significant drop in solar panel costs over the last five years, now might be close to the best time to install large systems. Even if panels get cheaper, other installation costs probably won't, whereas savings start accumulating from the day the system goes online. My experience is that photovoltaic systems, unless you feel like cleaning the panels for a few extra percent of performance, require no service for years, perhaps for the the whole 25-30 year projected lifetime. Contra Costa schools are setting an excellent example.
Matt Smith July 24, 2011 at 12:39 AM
Kudos to Pete Pedersen and MDUSD leadership for being proactive both environmentally, and in a long-term strategy to leverage Measure C money to ultimately provide some relief for MDUSD's beleaguered budget. A true "win-win" for the district, the environment, and ultimately the students!

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