IUSD ‘flips the switch’ during ceremony to mark districtwide solar power initiative

With the help of corporate partners SunEdison and SPG Solar, IUSD ceremoniously flipped the switch on two megawatts of solar power at 15 sites throughout the district Wednesday, marking the completion of an ambitious sustainable energy initiative that’s expected to generate 25 percent to 60 percent of each campus’ electrical needs.

The more than 7,300 solar panels that are now affixed to rooftops and vehicle shade structures are projected to produce more than 2.9 million kilowatt hours of electricity per year and more than 51 million kilowatt hours over 20 years, saving IUSD in excess of $8 million. The district paid no upfront costs to build or install the systems – it will simply purchase power from SunEdison at a reduced rate that is predictable over time.

District officials gathered Wednesday morning for a special “Flip the Switch” ceremony at Rancho San Joaquin Middle School (pictured above), where they were joined by representatives from SunEdison and builder SPG Solar along with city leaders and students from Rancho’s Science Olympiad team. And flip the switch they did – literally, using a giant light-switch prop that was shipped in for the event.

Rancho Principal Scott Bowman emceed the ceremony and introduced each of the five speakers. They were IUSD school board member Michael Parham; Superintendent Gwen Gross; Inna Kaminer, a representative from Assemblyman Don Wagner’s office; Matthew Dickey, director of public sector for SunEdison; and Ted Walsh, vice president of business development for SPG. Also in attendance were school board President Sue Kuwabara, board member Sharon Wallin, Irvine City Councilman Steven Choi and Assistant Superintendent Terry Walker, who was recently named as the successor to Dr. Gross.

Parham, in his remarks, referenced the contributions of Galileo Galilei, noting that the famed Italian physicist wasn’t afraid to challenge the status quo of his era. Neither is IUSD, he said.

“Today we flip the switch on a new idea, a new model for our society – sustainable green energy,” Parham told the audience. “More importantly, we shine the light on a whole new set of opportunities for education, for the workplace and for our children.”

Indeed, the project has significant curricular potential for IUSD. Not only will students be able to track energy production and consumption in real time, they’ll get to learn more about photovoltaic technology on their own campuses. In fact, the production of solar energy is just one part of an 18-lesson curriculum being implemented in grades five and six that teaches students all about sustainable energy sources.

IUSD’s solar journey began back in August 2008, when the district first considered installing panels at Rancho alone. It wasn’t long before officials were looking at all 2.5 million square feet of district roof space and exploring a more wide-ranging plan.

The solar power systems currently in place were made possible through a strategic power service agreement between IUSD and SunEdison, which financed and deployed the units, allowing the company to take advantage of tax credits that public agencies can’t leverage. IUSD, in turn, agreed to buy back power at a rate that is reduced and predictable long-term. SunEdison worked closely with SPG Solar, which was responsible for the overall design and construction.

“This extraordinary partnership with SunEdison and SPG Solar will reduce our energy costs by millions of dollars and shrink our overall carbon footprint,” Superintendent Gross said. “At the same time, we are eager to incorporate new lessons on photovoltaic technology into our curriculum, giving students the opportunity to learn more about solar power as they monitor their own energy usage in real time.”

The technology will generate 25 percent to 60 percent of each campus’ electrical consumption, covering about 10.5 percent of the district’s needs while offsetting more than 57 million pounds of carbon dioxide. That’s equivalent to removing more than 5,600 cars from the road for one year.

Said Parham, “This project is one of the few no-brainers that come along – save money, save the environment, teach children.”