Solar panels power up school district sites

Claremont High School held a ceremony on June 1 to commemorate the completion and activation of the solar array installed over the CHS parking lot and, more broadly, the completion of Claremont Unified School District’s solar power project.

CUSD has installed solar power arrays at all 11 of its sites, comprising 5,474 photovoltaic panels. The district anticipates the project will save the district $6 million in electric costs over the next 25 years and avoid 2,239 tons of CO2 emissions, equal to the annual emissions of 429 cars.

CLICK HERE FOR YOUTUBE VIDEO FROM CHS AND EL ROBLE

This project involved no out-of-pocket costs for the school district. Partners for Many Generations (PFMG) Solar, which installed the panels, will also monitor them and handle any necessary repairs.

CUSD will now purchase its electricity from PFMG Solar for a rate lower than that of Southern California Edison.

“This is a happy event. The successful completion of a project that will save our school district money, provide shade in hot places, and help save our planet a little bit. For school board members, this was an easy decision. From the start, there was no disagreement, no controversy, no doubt,” Board President David Nemer said in a speech during the ceremony.

Student speakers from the AP Environmental Science course discussed the variety of opportunities the solar panels provide.

“We are proud to say that we have energy efficient solar panels in many places around Claremont, which can serve as an education resource for students and the community, as well as economic and environmental benefits,” Charlotte Stradley said. “Flipping the switch to environmentally friendly solar panels is a huge step forward for CUSD.”

Claremont citizens, especially members of Sustainable Claremont, are similarly excited about the solar panels and the prospects they provide.

“Having tangible examples of sustainable energy on school campuses is a very powerful teaching tool for students and families,” Sustainible Claremont Chair Steve Sabicer said. “We are excited to see the district prioritizing renewable energy, and hope that the example they set will encourage the city to adopt affordable and sustainable alternatives to fossil fuels.

CUSD has been considering installing solar powers for almost a decade, said Lisa Shoemaker, assistant superintendent of business services. However, the district did not want to be the first in the region to move to solar power, and instead decided to watch how the technology developed and functioned in other school districts.

The ultimate impetus for this project was the passage of the California Clean Energy Jobs Act (Proposition 39) in 2011, which the district believed could help finance solar panels.

Since PFMG installed the panels at no cost to CUSD, it did not use Proposition 39 funds for this project. CUSD plans to use Proposition 39 funding for other projects, including installing energy-efficient lighting, replacing the district’s HVAC system, adding energy management and control systems, replacing transformers and other projects.

The decision to move forward with the solar project received strong support from the board of education.

“It’s amazing and wonderful how united the board was,” school board member Beth Bingham said.

Ms. Bingham also praised CUSD staff who worked on the project.

“The [district] staff was as helpful as the solar people,” she added.

Representatives from PFMG Solar who attended the event lauded CUSD and the board of education.

“We’ve done a number of projects with school districts, and the cooperation from the school board here was tremendous,” PMFG President Paul Mikos said.

The project reaffirms Claremont’s longstanding commitment to sustainability and environmentalism, according to Mayor Larry Schroeder, who referenced an announcement made by President Donald Trump just hours before the CHS ceremony.

“This is wonderful,” Mr. Schroeder said. “We need to think locally on these projects, especially since the federal government pulled out of the Paris agreement. We need to do our part [to protect the] environment.”

Mr. Sabicer encouraged people who are excited by CUSD’s solar panel project and interested in becoming involved in sustainability efforts in Claremont to email Sustainable Claremont for more details about programs and volunteer opportunities at coordinator@sustainibileclaremont.org.

—Marc Rod

marc.rod12@gmail.com

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