Irvine, CA, schools go solar: most comprehensive solar school plan in U.S.

This post now appearing on Google News and on www.basilandspice.com.

We’re making progress! The southern California city of Irvine is taking a giant leap for “green” energy that should help other cities follow suit. All 21 schools in the Irvine Unified School District will soon be solar-powered, by rooftop photo-voltaic panels. The historic plan was approved Tuesday Dec 8 by the Irvine school district. The project, when completed, will be one of the largest solar installations for any school system in the country.

PV panels are expensive, but the project will cost taxpayers nothing. Rather, SunEdison (the local power company) will finance, build, operate and maintain the solar power systems. The Irvine school district will purchase energy with long-term predictable pricing from Sun Edison. The plan will reduce Irvine’s power bill for its school by 20% right away. Over 20 years, the school district’s savings will amount to $17 million!

The obvious benefits for the plan are (1) cost savings and (2) no longer creating demand for harmful or dangerous energy sources such as coal or nuclear. Just in terms of the city’s carbon footprint, the school system’s solar project will offset a projected 127 million pounds of carbon dioxide over 20 years – the equivalent of removing more than 12,000 cars from the road for one year, based on an average of 12,000 annual miles per vehicle. That’s according to a SunEdison press release about the plan.

But the project will accomplish much more than financial and direct environmental benefits. In an email to Kelly Jad’on of www.basilandspice.com, Irvine School Board member Shelly Yarbrough says that she’s even more excited about the educational component of the new solar energy system.

“The school district may be installing the solar panels on the roofs, but the district is taking solar into the classroom as well, with a full complement of courses that will take advantage of all the information this system provides. That to me means math, physics, computers, technology, business, finance, and even art. I think the resources they are devoting to this is also unprecedented.”

Irvine school-board member Yarbrough goes on to say that she just returned from a state-wide educational conference in San Diego, where lots of people were talking about “how they want to do that kind of thing in their school district as well.”

Indeed. Precedents are so important. I applaud wildly Irvine’s taking this vital step, and their taking the trouble to publicize it so broadly. I know that other schools are using PV panels to some degree (see some of them in Jeff Barrie’s excellent documentary “Kilowatt Ours“; see also my review of “Kilowatt Ours”). But apparently Irvine has made a bigger commitment than predecessors. It’s exactly what we need right now. I feel some momentum, with this Irvine story and with Obama on his way to Copenhagen’s climate negotiations on Dec 18. I hope so much that the momentum I sense toward taking our carbon footprint seriously is real.

Sources:
Personal communication from Irvine School Board member Shelly Yarbrough to Kelly Jad’on

IUSD Board Approves Historic Solar Agreement Projected to Save $17 Million”  Press Release from SunEdison. Dec 9, 2009.

Keywords:: carbon footprint, solar power, solar schools

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Posted in Environmental footprint, Going Green (co-authored with Sadie Kneidel), Sustainable Living Tagged with: , , , , , , ,

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