A $4.5 million solar panel project will be coming to Cañada College this year as part of the San Mateo County Community College District’s effort to increase energy efficiency at its three schools.
“We’re really excited,” said Chancellor Ron Galatolo. “We’ve been looking at sustainable practices here for the last 10 years.”
The project, approved by the Board of Trustees Jan. 8, is set to cut the school’s electrical energy consumption in half. The current cost of consumption is about $583,000 a year. The installation of ground-mounted solar panels on a 3.5-acre vacant project site is set to begin in early April, with a groundbreaking ceremony and will take about three to four months, said José Nuñez, vice chancellor of facilities planning and operations. Cañada was selected since it’s the southern most district campus, with the warmest weather for generating heat for the panels. It’s also the least visually obtrusive to neighbors, Galatolo said.
The timing for the project was perfect since the recent Proposition 39 gives the district $554,000 in funding and the California Solar Initiative will provide about $866,775 in rebates over a five-year period, Nuñez said. Karen Powell, director of facilities maintenance and operations, said the majority of the project’s funding is coming from money accumulated over a 10-year period from energy efficiency rebates.
“This came at a good time,” Powell said. “I think we got one of the very last rebates reserved. It’s not clear if the energy commission will continue the program (the California Solar Initiative) because the sense is the solar industry is well established now. … We were also the only district in the state to get Prop. 39 funds for solar.”
Proposition 39, the California Clean Energy Jobs Act passed in 2012, allocates revenue to local education agencies to support energy efficiency and alternative energy projects. Powell said the district likely received the funds for solar through Proposition 39 because the infrastructure for energy efficiency is already in place.
The approximately one megawatt Solar Photovoltaic System was part of the 2011 facilities master plan for the school. The goal of the project is to utilize available space to produce the maximum annual amount of energy from the allowable capacity of 1.2 megawatt direct current solar photovoltaic installation to reduce operating costs. The Solar Photovoltaic System will tie into the existing main powerhouse located at the north end of the project site. The project also includes installation of a 6-foot black chain-link security fence around the perimeter of the panels and three 12-foot high poles along the western side of the site — north end, middle and south end — to support motion-activated, downward-directed security lights and cameras.
Nuñez said the panels make sense as a next step since schools in the district have been updating their infrastructure over the last eight to 10 years. During the last decade, operating costs have been reduced through swapping out more than 9,000 light fixtures on all three district campuses, replacing boilers and other measures. These changes have reduced energy consumption by $2 million annually, he said.
There is always room for more energy efficiency though, he said. There will soon be a request for proposal to replace road and parking lighting metal halide-metal lights with more efficient light-emitting diode, or LED, ones.
In terms of solar projects, the district is just focusing on Cañada for now, Powell said.
The district prepared an initial study/draft of a mitigated negative declaration finding that, although the proposed project could result in potentially significant effects on the environment, there will not be a significant effect in this case because mitigating measures will be incorporated into the project description.
There will be a ribbon cutting upon completion of the project in late June or July, Nuñez said.
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