Local Elementary School to Transition to Solar Energy

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In an effort to become energy efficient, reduce costs and educate students, a local elementary school will be installing solar panels on its roof, allowing it to run entirely off solar energy.

The panels, which will cost $1.25 million, will cover all of Washington Communication & Technology Magnet Elementary School's electricity needs, said Berkeley Unified School District board member John Selawsky.

"It makes sense to become independent of fossil fuels and of paying energy bills," he said.

The school district decided to solarize a school in order to save money on electricity bills and because using renewable energy sources is consistent with the community's values, Selawsky said. The school was selected because the size and condition of the roof make it best suited to having solar panels installed.

Although the primary purpose of installing the solar panels is to generate electricity, the school's science curriculum will be changed to incorporate solar lessons, said Washington Elementary School principal Rita Kimball.

"We're really excited," Kimball said. "It's the way that we all have to go to live more efficiently as humans."

The details of the project, including the financing and the designs for the panels were put together by KyotoUSA, a Berkeley-based, non-profit organization that advises city residents and businesses on reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

"One of our goals is to help solarize public schools, to show children that there are things that each of us can do (to reduce carbon emissions)" said organization director Tom Kelly. "It's intended to give people an indication that they can actually make a difference. (Global warming) is such a huge problem that people can feel overwhelmed and disempowered by it."

The project is scheduled to begin construction after school ends in mid-June and to be completed before the school year begins in mid-August, Kelley said. A contracting company will be selected by the school board in March.

While the initial installation of the panels will be expensive, the reduction in electricity costs combined with money from grants and loans will cover the cost with seven or eight years, Kelly said. The project is being paid for by a grant from the state, a loan taken out by the school district, a rebate from PG&E for installing solar panels and funds provided by KyotoUSA.

Kimball said the school aims to play an active role in facilitating students' understanding of social responsibility.

"We don't tell them what to think, but we help them come to conclusions that are positive," she said.

Fourth-grader Casey Kading, said she was really excited about getting to see first-hand how solar panels work.

"I think its good to learn about this because it is one of those things that's really important to human life," she said. "I'm excited because I love working with my classmates and working on the solar panels will bring everyone together."


Contact Jacqueline Johnston at [email protected]

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