Posted on June 3, 2013

Berkeley Elementary School Gets More Solar Energy, Thanks to PG&E

By David Kligman

BERKELEY — PG&E joined students at Rosa Parks Elementary School today to celebrate the completion of a solar project that will provide power to 40 percent of the school, offsetting thousands of dollars in utility costs that can be used to purchase textbooks and pay teacher salaries.

PG&E’s Ezra Garrett and 11-year-old Naomi Barrios flip a symbolic switch to activate solar panels at Rosa Parks Elementary School in Berkeley. (Photos by David Kligman.)

The project is part of the PG&E Solar Schools program, which provided a $200,000 grant to the school to fund the installation of solar panels on the school’s roof.

The panels, installed by SunPower, are the first on a California school rooftop using a new easier-to-maintain bracketing system that doesn’t require bolting to the roof.

Also notable was that Rosa Parks Elementary was among the first schools to receive a Solar Schools grant back in 2004 when the program began. At the time, the school used PG&E funding to pay for a “solar-on-a-stick,” a stand-alone solar panel that powers energy for the school’s administrative offices.

Times have changed

Nearly 10 years later, the school worked with PG&E on a much bigger installation — 160 rooftop panels. PG&E’s Ezra Garrett noted that times have changed over the years. When the program began he had to explain to reluctant communities that solar power was viable.

The 160 rooftop panels are the first at a California school to use a bracketing system that uses a balancing system, not bolting, to secure the panels.

“Believe it or not at that time a lot of schools weren’t interested in trying a new solar project like this,” said Garrett, vice president of community relations and chief sustainability officer for PG&E. “It hadn’t really been done. “And so we thought, ‘We’ve got to go to Berkeley. Because if we can get anything done like this it’ll be in Berkeley.’”

Garrett also credited the school officials, students, parents and partners like SunPower and the nonprofit Foundation for Environmental Education.

“We get a lot of credit for having this great idea to launch a Solar Schools program and we get a lot of credit for providing the funding to make it happen,” he said. “But really, all the money in the world and all the great ideas in the world don’t matter unless you have partners that can actually do projects like this.”

Also attending the ceremony was Karen Meyer, a parent who wrote the grant that secured the school’s funding for the original solar installation in 2004. Several students spoke about the benefits of solar and helped officials  flip a PG&E switch to symbolically power the solar, though the system’s actual activation won’t happen until later this month. The new system will produce 74,000 kilowatt hours a year and save the school $13,000 a year in energy costs.

Then the schoolchildren hosted a science fair in the playground. They showed projects including solar ovens and science experiments. PG&E also exhibited an electric demo board to show the children about the hazards of electricity and ways to stay safe.

“It’s a huge thing for these kids to know that their school is running on solar and they’re also learning about solar,” said Meyer, who has a daughter who attended the school and a son now in the third grade there. “It’s really amazing.”

Solar Schools program at 130 schools

The PG&E Solar Schools program has funded more than 130 installations in schools throughout the utility’s territory. PG&E’s funding also has included a solar-based curriculum training package, workshops for teachers and Bright Ideas grants.

These youngsters were among the speakers at an event to celebrate new solar panels at Rosa Parks Elementary School in Berkeley.

The program teaches the value of renewable energy and energy efficiency to K-12 public schools in Northern and Central California.

And it shows that science can be fun and that everyday actions can positively impact the environment.

“A lot of these kids have solar on their homes but they didn’t when this came in,” said Glen Kizer, president of the Foundation for Environmental Education. “We’ve shown that if it’s safe enough to put on this playground it’s safe enough for your home.”

Email David Kligman at David.Kligman@pge.com.

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