East Bay School Districts Receive Solar Grants

Grant from US Department of Energy Will Allow Berkeley Schools to Consider Getting Solar Panels

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The U.S. Department of Energy announced yesterday that the Berkeley Unified School District, along with two other East Bay school districts, will receive a grant for assistance to assess the potential for installing solar panels.

The department's Solar America Showcase grant program will offer $500,000 in assistance to the Berkeley, Oakland and West Contra Costa Unified School Districts, with the Berkeley Unified School District receiving $150,000 worth of services.

The grant reward includes financial consulting and technical assistance from solar technology labs to develop solar master plans, said Tom Kelly, director of KyotoUSA, a Berkeley volunteer organization that helped the school districts apply for the grant.

"Master plans include looking at the current energy consumption, evaluating the costs of solar energy and how it can be paid for," he said.

The grant requires that at least one school out of the three districts begin development of a 250 kilowatt solar panel system within an 18-month period to showcase the project's success, according to the grant project's description.

Kelly said funding for the installation of the solar panels will come from different sources, depending on each school.

"Every school and every district has a different configuration for financing," he said. "There are local funds, state construction funds, tax exempt municipal funds, a number of things that can make that happen."

While Carl Blumstein, research associate for the University of California Energy Institute, encouraged the districts to pursue the services, he also said installing panels on school rooftops and other small areas is not as cost-efficient as constructing them over larger spaces.

"The real economy is scale. That means as you get bigger, you get cheaper per unit," he said. "Normally you can't realize those scales on a rooftop, you need to have a bigger site. For example, on top of a parking lot or out in the desert. Those occupy many acres."

However, providing schools with solar energy will encourage future generations to be environmentally conscious, according to Berkeley Unified School District spokesperson Mark Coplan.

"It's a really complicated process and yes, it's costly, but there are also a lot of funding sources," he said. "Hopefully we can reduce our carbon footprint and teach these kids that this is the direction for energy in the future."


Contact Elizabeth Chang at [email protected]

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