Behind Gahr High School's Solar Panel Project 

  • February 16,2022 

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In these last few months, you may have noticed enormous metal columns covered with solar panels being constructed in the gym parking lot. This construction is for creating solar-paneled shade that would fill up the once barren parking lot. With surface-level construction beginning on December 6th, 2021, and predominantly finished by February 2022, although electrical work would continue till April, this project aims to provide Gahr with renewable energy as well as provide shade for vehicles within the parking lot.

 

The project's Notice of Exemption document (usually registered after a project is approved) was filed on April 6th, 2021, containing details of the specifications of these solar panels. According to the document, the project is to be made up of five structures, each labeled from A-E and each made up of metal columns reaching at least 13 feet high. These five structures amount to a total of 1,408 solar panels, and the total system would have a capacity of 599.76 kW. For reference, a typical household uses a 6 kW system that is capable of generating 720-900 kWh per month, which pales in comparison to the 71971.2 kWh - 89964 kWh per month that the system at Gahr could generate. Furthermore, the document points out that the structures could also support the installation of electric car chargers, which is something to anticipate in the future.  

All this construction begs the question of, "Where is the money coming from?" While one might guess that the recent Measure BB has a role to play in funding this project, this is not the case according to the district. Instead, the solar panels are built through a Power Purchase Agreement or PPA. Through a PPA, the development company plans, constructs, and maintains a solar project at little or no cost to the property owner. In return, the property owner purchases the energy generated from the solar panels at a rate oftentimes lower than the utility company. While it is not explicitly stated which company the district is contracting the PPA from, it is likely in collaboration with Rosendin Electric, a San Jose-based electrical company, due to the presence of their vehicles on the construction site. 

So, why is the district invested in this solar panel project? For starters, it's a clear win for the school because they are receiving these solar panels for free and gain the added benefit of lower electricity bills, saving money that the school could invest elsewhere. Moreover, the project is a clear step into the road of renewable energy and, as the district puts it, "drive[s] the transition to a low-carbon economy while also saving money." The project also meets the goals outlined in the district's Master Facilities Plan, which emphasizes the need for schools to generate their own energy and resources.  

 

While Gahr High School is the first school in the district to receive the solar panel treatment, it certainly will not be the last. A similar construction project is taking place right now at the ABC School District building, and all schools in the district have had NOE documents filed for similar solar panel projects, all around the same time as Gahr. All we know now is that this project only marks the beginning of ABCUSD's pursuit of clean and renewable energy.