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California school district goes solar in 2010

A 21-building solar project in California won't just supply power to the classroom, it will create fodder for new course materials.
Written by Heather Clancy, Contributor

Whether or not you believe that climate change will bring us all to the brink of extinction or whether or not you think renewable energy is too complicated or too expensive, renewable energy projects continue to get funding. Which in my opinion, is a good thing. Seriously, I'm curious as to why the government worries itself over allegedly monopolistic behavior by the technology industry and then it turns around and supports policies that reinforce policies that encourage a veritable monopoly on energy sources by the oil and gas industry.

But I digress and the real point of this blog is to mention a deal struck in December 2009 between the Irvine Unified School District, SPG Solar and SunEdison. The agreement calls for the district to install solar power panels at all 21 of its district sites over the course of this year, which could save it a projected $17 million in electricity costs over the next two decades. (That's a reduction about 10 percent per year.) The school doesn't have to put up money upfront, as the system will be financed, built and operated by SunEdison; Irvine Unified will buy back the power through a power purchase agreement. An estimated 6.6 million kilowatt hours of electricity could be generated in the first year alone.

Tom Rooney, president and CEO of SPG Solar, the Novato, Calif., company that is installing and integrating the technology in Irvine, says the solar systems will provide about 45 percent of the power needs of the school. The deal came about over the course of several months: originally, the district was looking just to install a single array, but (ironically) by extending the scope of the project it was able to get the funding through SunEdison more easily.

Rooney says the first roof installation will begin in March 2010. The bulk of the installs will take place over the summer, with the entire system hopefully in place by late in the year.

Aside from installing the panels, SPG Solar will work with the school to stream data from the systems into the classrooms in order to create learning environments and data exchanges that can be used in new classroom materials.

Here's some more insight on that element of the project from Irvine Unified board member Michael Parham:

"This could be one of the most valuable teaching tools we have in our schools. We need sustainability in our schools, not just on our roofs or in our recycling programs, but in our classrooms too. That is why as good as this solar energy program will be, what we will be doing to use solar energy to teach our kids about math, science, business, finance and art will be even more important."

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