Monday, December 24, 2012

14 Colorado Schools ‘Flipped The Switch’ On 5,000 Solar Panels

Boulder Valley School District (BVSD) flipped the switch Monday on 1.4 MW of green energy generated from more than 5,000 solar panels installed on 14 different schools across the district. The ceremony was held Monday at Foothill Elementary School in Boulder, Colorado.

The 14-school project may be one of the largest undertaken by a school district in the country, at least a district the size as Boulder Valley. This increases the number of buildings in the district with solar arrays to 30, half of the buildings in the system.

The panels were installed by SolarCity, a national provider of clean energy services. SolarCity owns the panels and installed them at no cost to the School District. The District entered into a 20-year Power Purchase Agreement (PPA) with the company to buy the electricity from SolarCity. In turn, SolarCity will provide full maintenance on the system.

This project provides environmental benefits to the region, eliminating over 110 million pounds of annual carbon dioxide emissions, which is the equivalent of taking roughly 300 cars off Colorado’s roads each year.

The systems will also allow the district to pay less for solar electricity than it currently pays for utility power. The amount varies from school to school because of the differences in the size of the school, but it is estimated to save the District between 10% and 15% annually on the electric bills of each of the 14 schools according to Eric Wittenberg, regional vice-president of SolarCity for Colorado.

“We are gratified to be able to contribute to the educational life of BVSD’s students and to help districts such as theirs demonstrate the economic and environmental advantages of renewable energy,” Eric Wittenberg said. “Solar power can become a mainstream source of energy so it is increasingly critical that our youth understand how it works, what it means for their futures.”

The money that is no longer going to the utility company will be used for educational programs for the district’s school children. This savings comes with no cash outlay by the District.

The Boulder Valley School district is one of the greenest districts in the nation. They contacted SolarCities to find a way to get solar on its schools. This project was the result. It took only nine months to go from concept to flipping the switch.

Speaking at the ceremony were various dignitaries from the School District, SolarCity, and the US Green Building Council Colorado Chapter. Also in attendance were the 5th grade students who sat on the lawn attentively during the entire program. Clearly the students are excited about this project.
The students sat so attentively because they are involved in this project. Students at these 14 schools will have access to on-site educational resources with SolarCity’s web-based monitoring. Students will be able to track in real-time how much power their solar system is generating and how much electricity their school is using. This data is displayed graphically, thus allowing students to easily see the relationship between production and consumption.

“The primary goal of this ambitious initiative was to increase the amount of carbon-free solar energy the district uses, and we are delighted to have achieved it,” said BVSD Sustainability Coordinator Ghita Carroll, Ph.D. “These solar installations will enable us to teach our students about the benefits of clean, renewable energy while delivering clean electricity to the district.”

The school district will also implement an extensive learning program called Schools Going Solar, which helps schools teach solar basics to students in grades five through 12. Developed by the National Energy Education Development (NEED) Project, the program approaches the subject from mathematical, scientific, social and cultural perspectives.

The ceremony coincided with the first annual Green Apple Day of Service, a global initiative of the U.S. Green Building Council to educate children in sustainably built schools that conserve energy and inspire students.

This project should become a model for school districts across the nation. The program offered by SolarCity allowed the District to save money on its utility bills without investing scarce tax dollars to do so. In addition, the schools have a new educational tool to help introduce children to green energy. Perhaps the students will teach their parents about the value of solar energy.


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