District Gets Federal Grant to Study Solarization of Schools

By Riya Bhattacharjee
Thursday April 30, 2009 - 07:32:00 PM

A coalition of East Bay school districts and two local organizations was awarded a Solar America Showcase grant to explore energy independence, the U.S. Department of Energy announced April 28. 

Berkeley, Oakland and West Contra Costa Unified School Districts are set to receive up to $500,000 in technical assistance from the Department of Energy (DOE) to figure out which of their buildings have the potential to go solar. 

The coalition includes the Sequoia Foundation and its sponsored project, KyotoUSA, and Moore Iacofano Goltsman, Inc., a Berkeley consulting firm. 

Tom Kelly, who heads KyotoUSA, said the schools themselves would not get the money, but would instead receive support from national labs and financial corporations to develop comprehensive solar master plans which would speed up the process of solarizing schools across California. 

Experts from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, Sandia National Laboratories, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, DOE’s Southeast and Southwest Regional Experiment Stations at the Florida Solar Energy Center, and New Mexico State University will guide the schools through the process. 

“It’s a way of creating a template for all school districts to do something similar,” Kelly said. “We saw that this grant was available and thought it was an appropriate instrument to achieve the solar master plan. I am very excited.” 

The grant process was announced in March with applications due at the end of the month. 

The Berkeley Board of Education approved the application on April 15 because district staff did not have time to ask them for permission before applying for the grant. 

The exact amount each school will get was not available immediately. 

“We are very interested in exploring solar options for Berkeley’s schools, and this grant from the Department of Energy will be a big help,” said Berkeley Unified Superintendent Bill Huyett in a statement. “We already have one solar school in the district, so we already see firsthand both the advantages and the potential challenges.” 

On Wednesday, April 29—after the Daily Planet’s deadline—district officials were to ask the Berkeley Board of Education to identify school sites that could be converted to solar in the future.  

Calls to district officials for further comment were not returned by press time. 

Kelly and his wife Jane were instrumental in getting solar energy to Berkeley Unified’s Washington Elementary School, which involved lobbying district officials and the Berkeley Board of Education to quite an extent. 

The project, which cost $1.17 million, was unveiled last August, and its 103-kilowatt PV system is expected to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 40 tons every year over the next two decades 

“It took us two years to get one school done,” Kelly said laughing. “We will be dead before we can get 10 of them done. But the grant formalizes the process of getting solar up.” 

Kelly told the Planet there were more than 200 buildings in the three school districts which could be equipped with photovoltaic panels. 

“They are sitting on a little gold mine which will help them get their energy costs down,” he said. 

In its application, the Sequoia Foundation outlined specific efforts to evaluate the energy consumption and solar electricity generation potential for all schools and facilities within the three districts. 

The 18-month grant period will see the districts select one or more schools to become a “showcase” where the most “efficient and effective solar arrays will be installed.”