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Soledad brings solar power to every school in district


SOLEDAD — Building on the momentum and success of Soledad High School’s Solar Project completed in February 2017, the Soledad Unified School District began construction on a second round of solar projects in mid-December 2017.

Phase Two of the program will expand solar energy production to every school site in the school district and save the District an additional $5 million in utility costs over the 25-year life of the project.

When completed in 2018, solar panels will be installed at Frank Ledesma Elementary, Jack Franscioni Elementary, Rose Ferrero Elementary, San Vicente Elementary, Gabilan Elementary, Main Street Middle and the District Office.

The project will be financed with a zero percent interest loan from the California Energy Commission, with additional costs covered by cost savings resulting from the generation of clean solar power that dramatically reduces the cost of the District’s PG&E electricity bills.

Additionally, it is estimated that the project will generate almost 25 million kWh of clean electric energy across the multiple sites.

“The Board of Trustees takes great pride in working with our school community, our energy and construction partner OpTerra Energy Services, and the State of California to create a partnership which demonstrates that the Soledad Unified School District is an environmental leader. And, by leveraging low and zero percent funding from the California Energy Commission, we are also making fiscally sound and responsible investments which reduce our energy costs, improve the learning environment, and put money back into the general fund for other classroom needs,” said Timothy J. Vanoli, district superintendent.

When aggregated, the Phase One Soledad High School solar project and Phase Two district-wide solar projects are expected to save the District $9 million in energy savings over the 25-year life of the projects.

“This is important because the cost of energy continues to increase and the volatility of rates makes it difficult for the business department to budget for utility costs. But by having our own energy source, we can control those costs and save money,” said Cesar L. Vega, chief business official for the District.

OpTerra is an industry leader in working with school districts to design STEM education curriculum that ties renewable energy projects that students see every day into project-based learning opportunities in the classroom.

At Soledad High School, OpTerra will work with the principal and teachers to provide the high school’s Agriculture Systems Management honors course with renewable energy and water irrigation hands-on activities that will empower students to apply sustainable energy innovations to the agricultural sector. 

Guest speakers from the OpTerra team will also connect classroom learning with real-world careers in sustainability.  Planning is also underway for similar types of programs at other school sites.

“The OpTerra team is thrilled to support the District through these two phases of energy analysis, design, construction, and financing. Our core values as a company motivate us to do more than just modernize facilities and engineer technical solutions — we help school districts and cities in Monterey County improve their education and community spaces, make financially sound investments, and be environmental leaders in the communities in which their students and residents live,” said OpTerra Regional Manager Courtney Jenkins.

Soledad Unified School District serves about 4,900 students in grades K-12. There are five elementary schools, one middle school, one comprehensive high school and one community education center, which house a variety of alternative programs.