On Jan. 5, Castro Valley Unified School District will begin construction of 3,000 solar panels at CVHS, Canyon Middle School, and the Adult School/District Office complex.
The project, spearheaded by Assistant Superintendent Mike Bush, aims to have solar panels fully installed at CVHS by mid-May. The panels are expected to provide 75 percent of the school’s energy needs, in addition to saving the district $100,000 per year in energy costs.
“The first reason we undertook this project was for budgetary concerns,” said Bush.
Indeed, although the total cost of the project is estimated at $6,600,000, Bush assured students that existing programs will not be affected.
“Since the project will generate savings for the district – about $100,000 per year – rather than adding expense, no programs will be cut,” he said.
The district managed to avoid additional budget cuts through its decision to borrow the money for the project instead of paying out of its pocket. In addition, contributions from PG&E and other sources accounted for a large portion of the expense.
In this way, the panels will effectively leave the district $100,000 better off each year than it would have been without the panels, a welcome change in an economic climate where schools everywhere are being forced to cut programs just to pay the bills.
The solar panels will be installed over the staff lot, the senior lot, and part of the junior lot, allowing the panels maximum sunlight while providing shaded parking for cars underneath. The shaded parking will be achieved by installing unique canopy structures that will allow the panels to rest on top of an open frame, leaving the space below open for cars.
Students were generally supportive of the project, though some worried about the obstruction to student parking during construction.
Junior Caleb Kim voiced his concerns: “I really support what they’re doing; it’s innovative and energy efficient. My only worry is where people will park during construction,” Kim said.
Space is limited in the student parking lots, and many who applied for a spot this year did not get one. From January until mid-May, space will get even more tight. The construction will obstruct some of the staff and senior lots as well as some of the junior lot; many of the remaining student parking spots will be given to staff members. The school is considering giving refunds to parking permit holders.
The decision to start construction in the middle of the school year was primarily a budgetary one; PG&E pledged to donate $1.4 million to the project if it began before the summer of 2012. In addition, although the project has been in motion for years, not until recently did lowered interest rates allow the district to move ahead with the planning. Bush wished to get the project moving before costs rose again.
District administrators have worked closely with Assistant Principal Matt Steinecke and Principal Mary Ann Valles to make sure that, come construction day, everything goes as planned. After years of work, their efforts are finally about to come to fruition.
In addition to the obvious budgetary and environmental benefits the solar panels will bring, Bush hopes to introduce an educational unit on solar energy as well.
“The science involved in this is very interesting. We’re hoping to get a curriculum component in this as well, to introduce solar to science classes,” he said.
For now, however, students will have to wait while the project moves into its final stage. If everything goes as planned, CVHS students can expect shaded parking and a more energy efficient school by spring finals.
“If there’s anything students should take away from this, it’s that there’s more to come,” Bush said.