By David Kligman
MARTINEZ — PG&E has more rooftop solar installations in its territory than any utility in the country. And that includes those owned by the Martinez Unified School District, which today (March 27) was recognized for becoming the utility’s 75,000th solar customer.
There was a celebratory feel at the Martinez Junior High School campus as PG&E’s Steve Malnight joined school district officials and U.S. Rep. Mike Thompson to honor the Contra Costa County school district for its solar installations and energy efficiency upgrades. More than 100 students also attended.
The school district, which has installed solar panels at its four elementary schools, two of its high schools and its district office, achieved the milestone late last year. Since then, the number of solar customers in PG&E’s territory has grown to more than 81,000.
Students whooped and hollered as Malnight, PG&E’s vice president of customer energy solutions, presented the school district with a plaque and a $1 million rebate check as part of the California Solar Initiative program. Malnight told the students they are part of a “living laboratory” and challenged them to ask questions about energy.
‘An amazing opportunity’
“You have amazing opportunities at this school to really understand how energy is used and how it’s generated,” Malnight said. “Because I’ll tell you, the future that you’re going to live in is going to look a lot more like this than a school I ever went to.
“And it’s not just the schools,” he added. “It’s going to be the buildings you work in, the homes you live in. It’s going to be how you live your life. And it’s going to be different and it’s going to be exciting.”
Solar installations at the schools are expected to generate about 1.85 million kilowatt hours per year. That’s the equivalent of powering more than 100 homes and will help avoid the emission of nearly 1 million pounds of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.
Before installing solar, the school district reduced its energy usage through PG&E’s energy efficiency programs.
The district took simple steps, including upgrading to LED exit signs and energy-efficient lighting, retrofitting its heating and air conditioning and adding new programmable thermostats. The school district has earned $213,000 in PG&E energy efficiency incentives and rebates while saving almost 1.5 million kilowatt hours of electricity and 35,000 therms of natural gas.
Creating local green jobs
Malnight applauded the district for modernizing its facilities and reducing long-term energy costs — savings that go directly back to the classrooms. He said the energy efficiency projects create local “green jobs” from engineers to installers. And they present the opportunity for student education and training.
The solar installations provide important savings for the school district, especially during tough financial times. But school superintendent Rami Muth said there was more to the decision.
“We believe that it’s our responsibility morally and ethically to educate our students for a life in the 21st century where they will make an important contribution,” she said. “And protecting and preserving our planet, there is no more important role.”
At PG&E, solar is just one of the ways the utility is helping facilitate the development of renewable energy. Currently, more than 50 percent of the energy PG&E delivers to its customers is non-carbon emitting. The utility is well on its way to meeting California’s goal of delivering a third of its energy from renewable sources over the next seven years. Solar will account for about 40 percent of its renewable mix by 2020.
California leads the nation
Nationally, the American solar industry continued to flourish in 2012 due to a decline in prices for photovoltaic solar panels. California accounted for 1,033 megawatts of solar power installed in 2012, far more than any other state.
Thompson, who represents California’s 5th district, said the solar installations set a standard that every school campus in the country should emulate. He also praised PG&E for its dedication to adding clean energy to California.
“I work with PG&E a lot in Washington,” he said. “They do great work. They’re committed to making sure that we have a good, strong source of renewable energy.”
Martinez Junior High principal Helen Rossi said the solar panels that surround her school are a reminder to students and the community that they should be responsible for the energy they use.
“When you’re educating students, it’s all about setting a standard and holding it to them,” she said. “And hopefully it will transfer over to their homes and the rest of their lives.”
Email David Kligman at David.Kligman@pge.com.