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Irvine Unified School District goes solar

The 7,300-panel project is expected to save the district as much as $10 million over 20 years.

March 19, 2011|By Britney Barnes, britney.barnes@latimes.com

The Irvine Unified School District has unveiled a 7,300-panel solar project spread across 15 buildings.

The venture is expected to save the district $8 million to $10 million over 20 years.

The district held a dedication ceremony Wednesday morning at Rancho San Joaquin Middle School, 4861 Michelson Drive, to "flip the switch" on the project that will supplement 25% to 60% of each building's electricity consumption.

"Kids are really excited about this," said Supt. Gwen Gross. "They're very excited that their school district, and school, is cutting edge."

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The solar panels will generate nearly 3 million kilowatt hours of electricity yearly and offset more than 57 million pounds of carbon dioxide in 20 years — the equivalent of taking about 5,600 vehicles off the road for one year.

The district partnered with SunEdison, which financed the project, and SPG Solar, which designed and constructed the solar panels, to bring the project to fruition with no upfront costs to the district.

In return, the district will buy the power collected at the sites from SunEdison at predictable rates for 20 years, officials said.

"I think even more with oil and gas and electricity prices going up," said school board Trustee Michael Parham, who was instrumental in getting the project off the ground.

The money saved will go into the district's general fund, which can then be used for programs or in the classroom, Parham said.

The solar panels themselves will also be used in the classroom and integrated into the curriculum through lessons on photovoltaic technology.

The students can monitor the energy that is captured in real time and see the energy they are saving, Gross said.

"For me, what it represents to our students is that we are dedicated to providing them with cutting-edge technology," she said.

The district has made a number of strides to go green through cardboard recycling efforts, trash audits, using fuel cells to heat pools and participation in PEAK Southern California, a K-8 educational program that teaches students how to save energy at home and at school.

The solar panel project is just the latest green move for the district and not the last, Gross said.

"This is just the beginning," she said.

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