News and analysis about energy in California with an eye toward renewables.

California Schools Are Going Solar

139 kW carport solar system at Curtner Elementary School in Milpitas | Photo: Chevron Energy Solutions

California's schools are leading the way to the state's solar future, generating electrical power while saving on costs and helping educate their students about the importance of renewables. That's according to a report released today by Environment California.

The report, Making the Grade with Clean Energy (PDF), surveys 18 California school districts spanning the state from Red Bluff to Chula Vista, and describes the nearly 200 solar projects those districts have installed on school grounds. Averaging more than 300 kilowatts in capacity, each project reduces public schools' formidable energy expenses -- which, in California, rivals the amount schools have to spend on books and supplies.

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"California school districts are adding a fourth "r" to the building blocks of education: reading, 'riting, 'rithmetic and renewables," Michelle Kinman, clean energy advocate with Environment California Research & Policy Center and author of the report, said in a press release. "Schools all across California are saving significant dollars by going solar, and helping reduce air pollution."

The report was released today in a press event at L.A. Unified's South Region High School #9 in South Gate, home to a 244-kilowatt solar carport system covering the school's parking lot. L.A. Unified is the largest of the 18 districts profiled in the report, serving more than 600,000 students, and the district has a solar plan to match its size. With 27 solar projects in place and an additional 60 in the works, L.A. Unified will be generating as much as 42 megawatts of solar power, saving up to $800,000 on the district's monthly electric bills.

The report surveys the kinds of applications to which each school puts its solar panels. Shaded parking spaces seem immensely popular among the schools surveyed, which makes us happy here at ReWire. Only one of the schools surveyed, Sweetwater Union High School District in San Diego County, was found to have installed a solar thermal system for heating water -- certainly a technology that bears further consideration by school districts.

The report concludes with a list of recommendations for policies that will help school districts across the state keep up the solar momentum, including raising net metering caps higher than the current one megawatt and five percent of a utility's demand; expanding feed-in tariff programs; streamlining permitting and other regulatory processes to make it easier for schools to install solar systems; and maintaining and expanding current incentive programs.

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About the Author

Chris Clarke is a natural history writer and environmental journalist currently at work on a book about the Joshua tree. He lives in Joshua Tree.
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