by Gary Hedden
The sun wasn’t out but it didn’t matter – the ribbon cutting on the new solar array at Oak School made it a great day for solar.
The ceremony marked the official start, but the panels at the nine LASD schools were already producing electricity, and according to Jeff Baier, LASD Superintendent, the system is expected to off-set $175,000 per year for the district, money that can go to the schools and not the power company.
Jan Pepper, Los Altos City Council, spoke about her vision of a future that uses clean electricity. Another speaker made the point that the arrays are an inspiration to the kids, their parents, and the community. People see the panels and think, “If it can work for the schools, maybe it can work for me.”
The schools will be adding solar into their science and technology assignments too. It connects to all aspects of STEM – science, technology, engineering, and math.
Starting next week, the clean electricity will be put to some good use. George Lee with PowerFlex Systems, using a grant from the Bay Area Air Quality Management District, will install up to 30 Electric Vehicle (EV) charging stations at each school. The wiring was installed during construction, and now the chargers can be added. The chargers used by PowerFlex are state-of-the-art and can provide almost free power when the sun is shining, but will charge more when its cloudy and the electricity comes from the grid. That keeps the cost of the benefit low. It is in place at the high schools and according to Lee the number of teachers and staff now driving EV’s to work has doubled in the past year.
Jessica Speiser, LASD Board member, cut the ribbon with Oak Principal Amy Romem standing to her left. In the front row, wearing bright yellow WOW t-shirts, representing GreenTown Los Altos you can spot me and Margie Suozzo. We used the traffic disruption during the project as an opportunity to encourage more walking and wheeling to school. We worked with the school district, the PTA’s and the Principals to create awareness, offer prizes and generate some interest in a little behavior change. Turns out, the project went a bit too smoothly and we only got a little improvement over past years. Oh well, we aren’t giving up, and with our new connections, we are in better shape than ever to make some progress.