PIEDMONT, Calif. – At a ribbon-cutting ceremony for what planners say is the largest solar and energy-efficiency school project, school officials announced they would be handing the scissors to the students.
"We’re hesitant to let legislators cut anything more," joked the host.
The ceremony, which took place at Piedmont Hills High School, marked the completion of a 7.1-megawatt project at 13 sites at the East Side Union High School District in San Jose, Calif., that is expected to generate $43 million in savings.
The new solar energy system and the additional efficiency upgrades are expected to generate savings in the first year equal to the funding required for about 30 teacher jobs, and to improve the learning environment, said Lan Nguyen, president of the East Side Union High School District Board.
"At a time when our district is being forced to absorb painful budget cuts, due to the continued economic downturn, this program is a huge reason to celebrate," Nguyen said.
The school district occupies a 180-square-mile area of San Jose and serves about 24,000 students at its 18 high schools.
District officials expect the program to offset its yearly electrical usage by more than 55 percent, which will allow them to reduce their purchase of utility power and, as a result, reduce carbon emissions by more than 4,900 metric tons.
Environmental awareness and energy consciousness will also be tied into the curriculum, with resources provided by Chevron Energy Solutions, who designed and constructed the project.
The company will operate, maintain, measure and guarantee the solar system’s performance for the district.
In addition to the solar panels, the company engineered and installed lighting upgrades and efficiency motors, among other upgrades.
"The district is creating critical budget relief in an economic environment, which demands creative, responsible strategies," said Jim Davis, president of Chevron Energy Solutions.
Tom Torlakson, state superintendent of education, said the goal for schools in California is to get off the grid. He said he hopes to see the project spread to other districts, in connection with his schools of the future program.
"The spirit of Silicon Valley is innovation," said Nora Campos, a California state assembly member for the 23rd district and alumna the East Side schools.
The money saved by the solar panels will fund teachers who can plant seeds for the future by training students to be able to get local jobs, she said.
At the ceremony, leadership student Kelsey Chan said the solar panels had a strong economic and environmental impact for the students.
"Youth are becoming increasingly conscientious about our environment," she said. "We want to do everything we can."
Chan said the on-site educational opportunities would be a great benefit to the students.
"In the current financial state, we didin’t think solar panels would be a possibility," she said. "It makes us as students more optimistic about the future."
Marisa Hanson, president of the East Side Teachers Association, she said was happy to see an actual solution amidst many complaints about the budget crisis.
"We can complain, or we can actually do something about it," she said.
In addition to funding teachers, the savings can also restore positions in the future, like librarians, said Neil Struthers, CEO of the Santa Clara and San Benito Counties Building and Construction Trades Council.
Struthers said the construction industry has been hit the hardest by the recession and that some have been out of work for two years.
"This district does things in a big way," he said. "This will lead to good jobs, and safe jobs."