BUSD Delays Vote on Solar Panels

By Riya Bhattacharjee
Tuesday May 29, 2007

The Berkeley Board of Education delayed a vote Wednesday on a proposal to install solar panels on the roof of Washington Elementary School. 

Proponents of the proposal and staff were asked to return on June 6 with a more comprehensive report on funding and payback figures. 

The delay in approving the proposal stalls the application for $750,000 in funds from the Office of Public School Construction (OPSC) and $305,000 in PG&E funds. 

The Berkeley Unified School District estimates the cost of the project to be $1.25 million, which takes into account the cost of putting in photovoltaic panels as well as replacing the current roof at Washington. 

KyotoUSA, a volunteer group which encourages cities to reduce greenhouse emissions, estimated the initial cost to purchase and install a solar system to be $800,000. The district, with KyotoUSA’s help, submitted a request to PG&E on March 21 for partial funding valued at $305,000. The school bond Measure AA would contribute $195,000 toward the cost. 

Tom Kelly, a Berkeley resident and director of KyotoUSA, highlighted Washington’s electricity costs for the current year. 

“Washington consumed approximately 170,560 KwH in energy and paid around $25,505 in electricity costs in 2006,” he said. “At a 5 percent increase in utility rates, the district would spend approximately $330,000 in electricity bills for Washington over a 10-year span.” 

Dubbed as the HELiOS Project (Helios Energy Lights Our Schools), the proposed system would cover 100 percent of the main building’s electricity needs. It also would come with a 25-year warranty.  

School board vice president John Selawsky supported the project. 

“We are leveraging the PG&E money which will go away on June 15,” he said, referring to a deadline by which project proponents would have to show “good faith in moving ahead with the project. I know there have been questions about good governance and spending our funds wisely, but this is important. I really urge board members to consider this.” 

Nancy Radar, a member of the Washington PTA, said that the school PTA members had adopted a resolution on the solar photovoltaic system proposed for Washington School which would help it to become an example of energy efficiency and long-term cost savings. 

“We are very concerned about global warming and want Berkeley Unified to take steps to curb it,” she said. “We want the district to approve the project, but in doing so we want an unbiased, independent on-site audit and assessment of the major opportunities for gas and electric GHG-reducing investments at our school.” 

Members of the Sierra Club also lauded the project. 

Board member Nancy Riddle commented that her main problem with the proposal was that it required additional funds from bond funds which were already oversubscribed. 

“I still struggle with the pay back,” she said. “My biggest concern is, where are we going to get this money? We can set aside a couple of hundred thousand dollars for this, but then we won’t be able to do something else.” 

Board president Joaquin Rivera echoed her thoughts. 

“It’s a great idea,” he said, “but we have a long list of projects we don’t have the money to complete. We need to prioritize all the projects we have left. So I don’t even know where the Solar Project fits on the list.” 


Selection of new principals 

The board announced the selection of four new principals and a vice principal for the upcoming school year. 

Don Vu will replace Jason Lustig as principal of Cragmont Elementary School. Lustig will be moving to King Middle School as its principal. 

Maggie Riddle, a Jefferson teacher, will become principal of Jefferson Elementary School. Quiauna Whitfield and LaSonya McCain were named principals of Longfellow Middle School and Pre-Kindergarten, respectively. 

Vernon Walton will be the new vice principal of Berkeley High School.