IUSD adds more solar panels, forecasts up to $8 million in long-term savings

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IUSD has reached another milestone in its ongoing drive to offset energy costs with solar power.

Last week, it was announced that solar installations at three schools have been completed, capping the second phase of the ambitious district-wide initiative.

Vehicle shade structures topped with solar tiles are now producing electricity at Stonegate and Woodbury elementary schools, as well as University High School. With these new structures online, IUSD now powers 22 sites with the help of photovoltaic systems, and the district is expecting to avoid $5 million to $8 million in utility costs over the next 20 years.

“We accomplished this with zero up-front costs and zero maintenance costs through a power-purchase agreement with SunEdison,” says Mark Sontag, IUSD’s director of math, science and career technical education. “That extra budget means more resources for our teachers and students.”

NorthwoodHS-039 (1)Since 2010, IUSD has authorized the installation of solar panels on the rooftops of more than a dozen schools — that’s Irvine High School pictured above — and vehicle shade structures capable of harnessing the sun’s rays have been constructed in the parking lots of 11 sites, including the District Office and the Maintenance and Operations center. (Shade structures at Northwood High are shown to the right.)

The systems were all built by SunEdison, which agreed to sell power back to IUSD at a rate that is both predictable and consistently below what the local utility charges. In exchange, SunEdison qualifies for tax incentives that public agencies can’t access.

IUSD’s solar panels generate about 25 percent to 60 percent of each campus’ electrical consumption, but Sontag notes that the benefits go way beyond savings. The installations also serve as the basis for standards-based instruction, allowing students to learn about photovoltaic technology on their own campuses as they track energy production and consumption in real time.

“The Irvine Unified School District is a wonderful success story and a role model for other school districts,” said Sam Youneszadeh, managing director of west coast distributed generation at SunEdison. “They’re inspiring to us, and we hope many more schools are able to follow their lead and invest more on education by reducing their energy bill.”

A third phase of IUSD’s solar initiative would add panels at Cypress Village and Portola Springs elementary schools in 2015.

Irvine to host Solar Decathlon 2013 and XPO featuring energy-efficient homes of tomorrow

The City of Irvine is hosting a unique educational opportunity — one that happens to align nicely with IUSD’s recent solar initiative.

Twenty solar-powered homes of the future, all designed by teams of college students, will be on display at the Orange County Great Park during the U.S. Department of Energy’s Solar Decathlon 2013 and XPO. The event is free and will be open to the public from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. for two straight weekends, Oct. 3 through Oct. 6 and Oct. 10 through Oct. 13.

About 800 college students spent up to two years designing and constructing the fully functional houses, which incorporate features and technologies designed to reduce carbon emissions while maintaining modern comforts. Their efforts culminate in a final competition, with judges deciding which home has most capably blended affordability, efficiency, energy production and curb appeal.

Meanwhile, the rest of us get to play the part of the nosy neighbors.

Obviously anyone with an interest in innovative home designs may want to tour these houses, but organizers say this will also be a great experience for kids, particularly those interested in science, technology or architecture.

Speaking of kids, Irvine students from Scott Bedley’s class at Plaza Vista School have been participating in an ongoing series of video chats with the team from Santa Clara University, so there’s a bit of a local connection. Here’s a preview of Santa Clara’s house, as published in the fall 2013 edition of Inside Irvine magazine:

Santa Clara University’s Radiant House is driven by the three E’s: efficiency, elegance and economy. The house carries the University’s tradition of using bamboo to a new level, using the sustainable material for structural wall and joist systems. With a  spacious and versatile “Great Room,” a large deck and patio area, and clean separation between private and public spaces, Radiant House offers an elegant, adaptable and affordable solution that balances the cutting edge with deceptive simplicity.

Radiant House uses inexpensive, commonly available materials in new and innovative ways with features that push the boundaries of architectural design. Features include a structural system, including wall and joist systems, made completely of bamboo — much of which is in raw, unrefined form to avoid the need for unsustainable treatment; solar panels that are seamlessly integrated into the roof structure using an integrated rail system; a front carport with electric car charging station; a generous, living space with high ceilings and clerestory windows that fill the interior with light and open to allow hot air to rise and escape; and spacious, accessible elements including a fullsized bathroom, walk-in closet, spacious kitchen and expandable dining table that can accommodate up to 12 guests.


The Solar Decathlon 2013 and XPO will also feature other interactive exhibits and activities, all promoting energy efficiency in home design, transportation, consumer products, food production and education. Check out the video above or the event’s website for more information.

Board Briefs: School board weighs in on use of Common Core implementation funds

The Board of Education on Tuesday discussed how best to use $5.8 million in available state funding for the implementation of the California Common Core instructional standards.

The Common Core standards are part of a national movement aimed at promoting learning on a much deeper level, with a shift toward critical thinking, creativity, articulating positions and collaboration. (You can read more about the standards in this column by Superintendent Terry Walker.) To assist California’s schools with this very significant transition, Governor Jerry Brown signed legislation over the summer earmarking $1.25 billion, or approximately $200 per student, to support the integration.

Just as there are specific rules on how these dollars must be spent, there are also a number of steps for school districts to follow, including a requirement that districts hold public meetings to explain and adopt their proposals.

On Tuesday night, Assistant Superintendent Cassie Parham shared a staff recommendation that would allocate approximately $2.4 million for professional training to grow the base of teacher leaders and mentors. Parham said an additional $1.8 million would pay for instructional materials, and about $1.6 million would pay for technology upgrades to aid the implementation and enable computer-based student assessments.

You can find the complete list of potential Common Core expenditures on the Board of Education’s Sept. 17 agenda. Note that the board is expected to vote on the recommendation at its next meeting on Oct. 1.

Here are some other highlights from Tuesday’s session:

  • Board members voted unanimously to authorize district staff to enter into a contract with TBWB Strategies, which will help IUSD communicate with the public about its technology needs and the implications of a potential technology bond. The Orange County Register has that story here. (Subscription required)
  • The board unanimously approved the submission of a request to the Irvine Public Schools Foundation outlining funding priorities for the 2013-14 school year.
  • To accommodate rapid growth resulting from new development on the district’s northern end, the board approved temporary revisions to Board Policy No. 7112, which covers school size. The temporary changes allow for a maximum enrollment of 1,200 at impacted elementary sites as new campuses are built.
  • The board approved attendance boundaries for new communities to the north, aligned with the recent decision to move the opening date of a planned elementary school in Portola Springs to the fall of 2015. The new boundary assignments will apply to future IUSD students and will not impact those who are currently enrolled.
  • Irvine Public Schools Foundation CEO Neda Eaton talked about the foundation’s upcoming annual campaign and presented the district with a poster-sized check made out to IUSD with two amounts: More than $1.44 million indicated how much IPSF contributed to the district in grants and donations for the 2012-13 school year, and $1.72 million represented the overall value of IPSF’s enrichment programs. (Eaton is pictured in the photo with Board of Education President Dr. Gavin Huntley-Fenner and Superintendent Walker.)
  • For its efforts to promote energy conservation and environmental sustainability, IUSD was also presented with the Emerald Award by the Filipino American Chamber of Commerce of Orange County. Chamber President Jun Jao specifically praised the environmental benefits of the district’s solar initiative, which has generated hundreds of thousands of dollars in annual savings and served as the basis for lessons on solar power.

IUSD in the News: OC’s best high schools, a memorial scholarship at Northwood and more

Good afternoon. Here’s a Friday roundup of some recent IUSD-related stories you might have missed from the Orange County Register’s website:

The Register offered its yearly rundown of the O.C.’s best high schools, and three of IUSD’s four comprehensive campuses made the top 10.

The president of the Northwood High School athletic boosters says he’s hoping to establish a scholarship in the memory of a fellow booster and his wife, who tragically lost their lives as a result of a March 12 traffic accident.

IUSD Elementary Teacher of the Year Scott Bedley has established a partnership with Santa Clara University’s Solar Decathlon team, which is discussing its work in monthly video-chat sessions with Bedley’s class at Plaza Vista School. The younger students are even submitting articles about the experience to the Irvine World News.

A Uni High senior is one of two Orange County students awarded $10,000 in college scholarships from Toshiba’s U.S. division for their school and community contributions.

IUSD Board of Education approves feasibility study for possible technology bond

The IUSD Board of Education voted Tuesday to move forward with a study designed to determine the feasibility of a technology bond.

By a 4-1 vote, board members secured the consulting services of Fieldman Rolapp & Associates, TBWB Strategies and True North Research. Experts from the latter firm will conduct polling to gauge public support for the bond, which could be used to generate new revenue for 21st century learning strategies.

IUSD is in the process of exploring new technologies as a means of leveraging the talents of its staff and making the most out of classroom time, but high-tech educational tools require a more modern and robust technology infrastructure. A bond would allow IUSD to rebuild its aging infrastructure and upgrade its data systems, leading to greater opportunities for customized learning, enhanced engagement and collaboration, and immediate assessment feedback.

While Tuesday’s action represented a very preliminary step, the board is expected to use the results of the feasibility study to decide whether to draft a measure and begin public outreach. Consultants have identified June 2014 and November 2014 as potential election dates.

As we noted in an earlier post, a technology bond requires at least 55 percent of the vote, and proceeds can be used to pay for construction, rehabilitation or replacement of school facilities and equipment, as well as the acquisition or lease of property. Voters in the Tustin Unified School District approved a $135 million technology bond measure in November.

Board OKs modified solar plan for Uni

Also Tuesday, the board voted in favor of a new design layout for solar panels at University High School.

In July, as part of the second phase of IUSD’s solar initiative, board members voted to place two rows of vehicle shade structures topped with the photovoltaic panels in Uni’s parking lot along Campus Drive. However, it was later determined that the configuration encroached on city property.

Staff came back Tuesday night with a revised recommendation to have a smaller strip of the vehicle shade structures along Campus Drive, as well as two rows of structures in the parking lot that faces Culver Drive to achieve comparable savings. After some discussion, the board approved a single row of shade structures along Campus Drive.

District seeks public input on modified proposal for solar panels at University High School

Back in July, the IUSD Board of Education approved the second phase of an ambitious effort to harness solar energy, green-lighting plans to add vehicle shade structures topped with photovoltaic panels to the parking lots of nine campuses, including University High School. When you combine both phases of the unique power-purchasing agreement, the districts expects to save about $500,000 a year with no upfront capital costs.

Construction at Uni has been scheduled for the summer of 2013, with the shade structures to be positioned along Campus Drive. However, a recent analysis of the plan has determined that there is not enough district-owned property along Campus Drive to accommodate the project as proposed. IUSD is therefore seeking feedback on a modified proposal that would install smaller structures along Campus Drive while adding a limited number of vehicle shade structures to the parking lot that faces Culver Drive.

IUSD actively pursued community input during both phases of its solar initiative, recognizing that there’s always a potential to impact neighborhood aesthetics as well as the perspectives of nearby homes. During the second phase alone, thousands of 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 shared updates via the NewsFlash, Facebook and Twitter.

With the proposed changes to Uni, IUSD will once again solicit feedback from local residents, who are encouraged to view updated site renderings and add their comments on this webpage before Monday, March 4, which is the deadline for input.

Note that even with an altered plan, installation would take place over the summer and would not affect the construction of Uni’s athletic facility.

The board will review the latest solar proposal at its March 5 meeting. In the meantime, residents with any questions are encouraged to contact Donna Jordan in IUSD’s Facilities Planning Department at 949-936-5306.

IUSD in the News: Daily Pilot shines a light on district’s utilization of solar power

Back in July, IUSD approved the second phase of an ambitious project that’s bringing energy-generating solar panels to a number of additional schools and district sites. The idea is to save money, benefit the environment and bolster the district’s energy curriculum with lessons on solar power.

Patrice Apodaca, a freelance columnist for the Daily Pilot, recently heard about the project and dropped by the District Office to interview Mark Sontag, IUSD’s math and science coordinator. (He’s also the administrative lead on the solar effort.) Apodaca’s latest column, titled, “Irvine Unified casts a ray of inventiveness,” was posted over the weekend on the Daily Pilot’s website.

It’s safe to say that the photovoltaic tiles wouldn’t have made their way to Irvine schools without the leadership of school board member Michael Parham, who championed the cause from the start and engaged in many of the initial discussions with Sontag. Apodaca also gives due to the “almost Silicon Valley-style culture of IUSD” that “not only encourages creative problem-solving through a flattened organizational structure, but also empowers employees.”

“In an age of extreme austerity and discord in our public school system,” she writes, “Irvine Unified’s solar panel project provides a clear example of what can be accomplished by a group of smart, committed employees who have been set free to figure out a better way to do something and are given the support they need to make it happen.”

You can access Apodaca’s entire column by clicking here.

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.

IUSD sends out notices encouraging the public to weigh in on second phase of solar project

At the direction of its Board of Education, the Irvine Unified School District has mailed out thousands of fliers encouraging local residents to weigh in on a proposal to add vehicle shade structures outfitted with energy-generating solar panels to a dozen Irvine campuses.

Information has also been added to the IUSD homepage, which now links to a more robust webpage with details on the plan, renderings of each site and an online comment form. The idea is to generate as much community feedback as possible by the July 4 deadline. The board, meanwhile, is expected to vote on the matter six days later.

IUSD added solar tiles to the rooftops of 13 schools in 2010 and 2011, and vehicle shade structures topped with the photovoltaic panels were constructed at two district sites, including the District Office. The district paid no upfront capital costs for these projects and is now saving about $220,000 annually thanks to a mutually beneficial power-purchasing agreement with SunEdison.

proposed second phase of this initiative would place additional vehicle shade structures in the parking lots of up to a dozen IUSD campuses. In addition to the environmental and curricular benefits, Phase 2 would reduce energy spending by another $380,000 a year, with a projected 20-year savings of between $5 million and $11 million, officials said. Those dollars would be  unrestricted, meaning they could help offset further operational cuts during California’s fiscal crisis.

Acknowledging the potential upside, the Board of Education wants to make sure the structures are also a good fit with their local neighborhoods, and they’re hoping to gauge the community’s level of support before moving forward.

At its June 6 meeting, the board approved a comprehensive communications plan to get the word out and solicit feedback on the vehicle shade structures. Staff was directed to mail notices to residents within a quarter-mile radius of the sites being considered, as well as other homes that share a neighborhood with those in the quarter-mile zone. In addition, board members asked that more detailed information be posted online and sent out through the district’s Facebook and Twitter sites.

If you’d like to learn more about the plan, or if you wish to leave your comments, click here. All submissions received on or before July 4 will be reviewed by staff and presented to the board, which is expected to vote on the plan at its July 10 meeting.

Board Briefs: IUSD looks to get the word out and collect input on proposed solar canopies

The IUSD Board of Education on Tuesday approved an expanded communications plan to solicit feedback on a proposal to harness solar power at up to 12 additional Irvine campuses.

In the days and weeks ahead, the district will mail notices to residents and neighborhoods within a quarter-mile radius of the dozen sites being considered for parking canopies outfitted with solar panels, and more detailed information will be posted on the IUSD website, which already features an online input form. We’ll also continue to post updates here on the IUSD NewsFlash, as well as Facebook and Twitter.

You may recall that the proposal represents the second phase of an ambitious campaign to save money, promote sustainability and bolster IUSD’s energy curriculum by leveraging solar power districtwide.

The first phase, which added rooftop photovoltaic panels and parking lot canopies to 13 schools and two district sites in 2010 and 2011, is now producing $220,000 in annual savings through a power-purchasing agreement with SunEdison. In addition, Irvine students are able to track their school’s energy consumption in real time as part of a new curricular component.

Phase 2 now centers on 12 schools that were unable to accommodate rooftop solar panels. The board is specifically deciding whether to place vehicle shade structures outfitted with energy-producing solar tiles in the parking lots of Alderwood, Canyon View, Oak Creek, Stonegate and Woodbury elementary schools; Vista Verde School; Sierra Vista Middle School; Irvine, Northwood, University and Woodbridge high schools; and the new Jeffrey Trail Middle School. (To access renderings of the proposals, or to make suggestions via IUSD’s online input form, click here.)

The projected savings from Phase 2 is approximately $380,000 a year, with a 20-year savings of between $5 million and $11 million.

Though the second phase came up for a vote in May, board members took note of the limited public response and questioned whether more could have been done to generate feedback before asking staff to bring back a recommendation for new communication strategies.

Mark Sontag, IUSD’s administrative lead on the project, presented that recommendation on Tuesday, as well as a revised list of the schools under consideration. Among the suggested notification strategies was a proposal to send fliers to all addresses and homeowners’ associations within a quarter-mile radius of each school. Board members favored casting an even larger net, directing the district to include other homes that share a neighborhood with those in the quarter-mile zone. After a discussion that included comments from members of the public, the motion passed.

Sontag said the additional feedback will be collected and tallied over the next few weeks. Phase 2 of IUSD’s solar initiative is expected to be brought to the board for a vote on July 10.

Also on Tuesday, the board honored this year’s Classified Employees of the Year, recognized the 2011-12 student board members and capped a year’s worth of facilities work with the approval of a comprehensive Facilities Master Plan, which was crafted to guide building and modernization decisions over the next 10 to 20 years.