Board of Trustees approves solar plan at Redwood

Gregory Block

The Board of Trustees approved the installation of solar shade structures in the Redwood parking lots, which will be installed this summer.

The solar shade structures currently at College of Marin, in which the ones at Redwood will be modeled after.
Solar shade structures currently found in the College of Marin parking lot, that the Redwood solar panels will be modeled after.

The solar system will consist of three shade structures in the front parking lot and one structure in the back parking lot, and will be similar to that of College of Marin.

The back parking lot is not able to accommodate as many structures because it is built on less stable land, according to TUHSD Board of Trustees President Cindy McCauley.

“The reason we are only able to do one [in the back lot] is because underground there are a lot of utilities and it actually was a landfill at one point,” McCauley said.

According to McCauley, the location of the structures in the parking lots will provide shade for vehicles and students, as well as contain charging stations for electric vehicles.

Some of the funding for the project, around $600,000, will come from a 2006 bond, and an additional $160,587 will come from Proposition 39, the California Clean Energy Jobs Act. The remaining funding will come from the district’s cash reserve.

According to McCauley, the anticipated savings from the electricity from the solar panels would be greater than $270,000 annually.

McCauley said that the idea of solar power in the Tamalpais Union School District has been talked about for a long time, but after evaluations of Tam, Drake, and Redwood, Redwood was chosen as the best site for the project.

“Once we got the money, we had a consultant come and evaluate all of our sites,” McCauley said. “It was a feasibility study and they looked at all the different sites and gave us a report on the location and the amount of sun. Redwood was by far the best campus because of the lack of trees and the amount of sun.”

SunPower was chosen as the installer of the panels after a series of proposals made over the past few years and several evaluations by engineers.

“What really came through with the board members is the fact that SunPower has an educational element to it, so the students will actually be engaged in some of it,” McCauley said. “They have worked with a lot of schools in the past and have a little bit of a curriculum that goes along with it, and also they had done so many schools so that gave us a better [idea] that they knew what they were doing.”

The educational aspect of the company will help students see the economic savings generated from solar energy, McCauley said.

“We will be able to monitor and hopefully the students will monitor yearly or monthly the savings that we are getting,” McCauley said. “There will be a meter so we can see how much it is providing the school and how much we aren’t spending on electricity.”

As well as having an educational component, AP Environmental Science teacher Joe Stewart believes that using alternative energy can make a difference by increasing students’ knowledge about alternative energy sources.

“At an educational institution, having [alternative energy] raises awareness and makes people say, ‘Oh, this is something we can do,’” Stewart said. “A lot of people are exposed to it, so seeing that this alternative is working and functioning at a school site can make a difference for a lot of people.”

According to Jessica Flaum, Redwood’s student school board representative, one of the only concerns at the Feb. 10 board meeting was the lack of testing of the panels because of the relative newness of the company.

“There was a lot of talk about it being a very new company,” Flaum said. “They estimate that the panels can last for 20 years, but unfortunately they haven’t had time to test it out.”

Aside from the concerns regarding lack of experience, both Flaum and McCauley believe the general mood of the public towards the decision is excited and curious.

“People were unanimously really happy to get solar panels,” Flaum said. “It was just a little bit of a worry because it’s such new technology.”

McCauley also said there has been a lot of positive support and interest.

“Everybody has been very supportive,” McCauley said. “It is more a matter of can we afford to do it and more curiosity about where it’s going to be and what it’s going to look like.”