California school district installs 2.1 MW solar array

Morgan Hill Unified School District students and teachers in northern California will enjoy shaded parking on hot days while the district will realize more than $8 million in saving on a new 2.1-megawatt solar installation at two of its schools.

Morgan Hill School District administrators and representatives from Chevron Energy, which installed the system, celebrated it earlier this week with a small ceremony.

“It was kind of a flipping of the switch party,” said Anessa Paillas, the director of facilities at the school district.

The district did some brainstorming and started looking at going solar in 2008, she said. They did a lot of the leg work, but then didn’t have any money for an installation.

When stimulus funds came through in 2010, the district had everything ready for its application and sent the paperwork in right away, Pasillas said.

“The timing just worked out perfectly for us,” she said.

The district aimed to and succeeded in getting 80 percent of the energy needed to power its two high school campuses from solar power.

The parking structures at the two schools are covered with 8,964 solar panels that will produce 2,151 kilowatts of power all together, Pasillas said.

In addition to offsetting a tremendous chunk of the school district’s energy load and utility bill, the solar installation will provide educational opportunities for students, Pasillas said.

There is a new solar curriculum in the high school science classes, and each of the schools is equipped with kiosks so that students, parents and visitors can see how much energy the panels are producing at any one time, Pasillas said.

"Our goal is to provide our students with a safe, healthy and sustainable environment where they can learn and succeed," District superintendent Dr. Wesley Smith told crowds at the ceremony. "This program allows us to save money and teach our students about solar energy and how it can be used."

The project planning and construction started in July and August of 2010 and was finished in December, Pasillas said.

The system was mostly installed and finished by the beginning of the year, but because of holiday breaks and busy schedules, Pasillas said the community wasn’t able to celebrate it until March.

The results so far have been great, and the utility bills have been showing savings, Pasillas said.

Image courtesy of Chevron Energy Solutions.