Vehicle shade structures outfitted with solar panels coming to nine IUSD schools

Vehicle shade structures outfitted with energy-producing solar panels will be added to the parking lots of nine campuses, saving the district an additional $305,000 a year, following a vote this month by the IUSD Board of Education.

Board members voted 3-1 on Tuesday, July 10 to approve the second phase of IUSD’s ambitious solar initiative after removing three schools from consideration based on their proximity to local homes. Board president Michael Parham, who has spearheaded the district’s pursuit of solar energy, voted in favor of the plan, along with Sue Kuwabara and Carolyn McInerney. Gavin Huntley-Fenner dissented after advocating for the structures at five schools, and Sharon Wallin was not in attendance.

“This is an historic step for the Irvine Unified School District, which is now poised to leverage one of the largest solar deployments of any public school system in the United States,” Parham said after the meeting.

“As we continue to grapple with the state budget crisis, it is critical that we look for creative ways to maximize all of our existing resources,” he added. “This project essentially puts our rooftops and parking lots to work, generating significant savings that are unrestricted and available for educational priorities. At the same time, it’s the right thing to do for the environment, and it presents tremendous educational opportunities for our students.”

IUSD is already saving about $220,000 a year from the first phase of the project, which in 2010 and 2011 added photovoltaic tiles to the rooftops of 13 schools and vehicle shade structures to the parking lots of two additional district facilities. By entering into a mutually beneficial power-purchasing agreement with SunEdison, IUSD district paid no upfront capital costs.

The same will be true for phase two, which will place additional solar shade structures at Alderwood, Stonegate and Woodbury elementary schools; Vista Verde School, which is a K-8; Irvine, Northwood, University and Woodbridge high schools; and the new Jeffrey Trail Middle School.

The combined first-year savings for both phases is now projected at nearly $525,000, but the benefits extend beyond the budget. Phase one of the project produced enough energy to power 167 homes and had the equivalent impact of removing 378 cars from the road. Meanwhile, solar power was integrated into the district’s energy curriculum, and Irvine students have been able to monitor their own energy consumption in real time.

Based on these successes, a recommendation for a second phase was presented at the Board of Education’s May 15 meeting. But board members postponed the vote and asked for a greater effort to gauge community interest.

Mark Sontag, IUSD’s administrative lead on the project, said Tuesday that the district has since sent out nearly 8,800 fliers that encouraged feedback through an online input form on the IUSD website. The notices were mailed to homes within a quarter-mile radius of the proposed sites, as well as to residents in connecting neighborhoods. In addition, the district emailed nearly 19,000 residents, posted detailed information on its website and passed along updates via the IUSD NewsFlash, Facebook and Twitter.

Of the nearly 28,000 communications sent out, the district received only 49 negative responses, Sontag said, and 30 of those referenced Oak Creek and Canyon View elementary schools, which were on the original list of sites under consideration.

Board members ultimately removed Oak Creek, Canyon View and Sierra Vista Middle School from consideration, citing their proximity to nearby homes.

The Orange County Register also has the story here.