Local School District Harnesses Solar to Save Thousands

Media Releases

New Report Highlights How Businesses and Schools, like the Golden Valley Unified School District, are Saving Money by Going Green

Environment California Research & Policy Center

Madera – It’s not often that environmental solutions are framed as economic investments. But in California, schools, businesses and institutions are doing just that—embracing clean energy solutions as a way to reap near-term economic savings, all while reducing air pollution.

For Superintendent Andy Alvarado, who is seeing Golden Valley Unified School District (GVUSD) through tough fiscal times, embracing solar power was all about the math. With energy prices on the rise and state education dollars declining, installing affordable solar panels to produce clean electricity was a decision that is sure to receive a passing grade.

“Our annual cost of electricity will be no greater than what we paid in the last year before we converted to solar,” Alvarado said.

Cutting air pollution can be good for state businesses, governments, and nonprofits, according to a new report by Environment California Research & Policy Center entitled, Greening the Bottom Line 2012: California Companies Save Money by Reducing Global Warming Pollution. The report highlights eight businesses and other institutions that have made groundbreaking progress in energy efficiency, renewable energy, and other sustainable practices that dramatically reduce their contributions to climate change while also helping their bottom lines.

At GVUSD, the district installed a number of solar arrays that reduce pollution and strengthen the bottom line. Contractor Cupertino Electric installed nearly 4,000 solar photovoltaic panels with a combined capacity of more than 1.1 megawatts on various district sites, including four schools. GVUSD expects to produce approximately 1.7 million kilowatt-hours (kWh) of electricity annually, accounting for over 80 percent of its total electricity consumption on a net annual basis.

“Cutting air pollution and strengthening our economy are two sides of the same coin,” said Bernadette Del Chiaro, Clean Energy and Global Warming Program Director at Environment California Research & Policy Center and co-author of the Greening the Bottom Line report. “The experience of California companies flies in the face of claims that protecting the environment is bad for business.”

GVUSD’s solar arrays were financed with the combination of a low-interest energy efficient loan from the California Energy Commission and school district bonds issued through a certificate of participation by investors in the project.

“Golden Valley Unified School District’s solar energy project is a great example of how local schools and communities can utilize low-interest energy efficient loans to achieve significant cost savings and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.” said California Energy Commission Chair Robert B. Weisenmiller.

GVUSD will reduce cumulative energy costs by as much as $250,000 by 2017 and eliminate 2.3 million pounds of carbon dioxide and over 2,300 pounds of other unhealthy chemical pollutants each year. It’s a boost for both the economy and the environment, and as these case studies indicate, such achievements are the rule throughout California, not the exception.

The new report shows that organizations of all different types and sizes can take advantage of clean energy innovations, no matter where they are located in the state. Other institutions highlighted in the report include:

  • Marine Corps Air Station Miramar installed a landfill gas plant, solar arrays, and various efficiency projects that reduce annual energy bills by over $820,000 and offset the equivalent of 250 million pounds of carbon dioxide each year.
  • Anheuser-Busch brewery in Fairfield added a 1.5 MW wind turbine to cut 6 million pounds of pollution annually and save $1.6 million over 20 years.
  • Gills Onions in Oxnard has an on-site energy system that converts onion waste to electricity. Along with some other clean energy initiatives, Gills is saving $800,000 and reducing 4 million pounds carbon dioxide per year.
  • Clif Bar headquarters in Emeryville feature a 531-kilowatt solar array that saves over $145,000 in energy costs and reduces 8.7 million pounds of carbon dioxide pollution annually.
  • San Mateo Community College, Sonoma County YMCA and the Marine Corps Camp Pendleton are also profiled in the report.

Greening the Bottom Line 2012 demonstrates that when businesses, governments, and other entities undertake efforts to address their contributions to global warming, they will find an abundance of opportunities to do so by changing the way they use energy. In the process, they can realize measurable financial savings and help rebuild California’s economy.

“TerraVerde has found that school Districts like Golden Valley are getting crushed by increasing energy prices and that taking control of these costs through energy efficiency programs and solar is one way to move money back into the classroom,” said Dr. Rick Brown, president of Terra Verde Renewable Partners, a company that advised the school district on this project.