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Largest District Solar Project Planned

Will save district an estimated $17 million over the next 20 years.
Aerial view of Meadow Park Elementary School of IUSD shows where solar panels are to be installed.

The Irvine Unified School District in Southern California has confirmed plans to install solar panels in 21 of its 38 facilities. The installation is predicted to save the district some $17 million over the next 20 years.

In November 2009, Irvine finalized an agreement with SPG Solar, Inc., project developers and designers of solar power systems.

"Irvine was groundbreaking," says Thomas Rooney, CEO and president of SPG Solar. "It was the largest and most ambitious solar project for a K12 school in the country."

Irvine agreed to lease solar panels through SunEdison, a solar energy company that finances, operates and monitors solar plants, and purchase the electricity generated at each site at a fixed rate over a 20-year payout.

Irvine's commitment to sustainable energy goes beyond the installation of solar hardware, however. The district also plans to integrate solar energy discussions into the curriculum.

"As different forms of energy become viable, it's important for the kids to have some kind of knowledge on them as they enter into adulthood," says Mark Sontag, curriculum coordinator for math and science at Irvine Unified School District.

"Very rarely is a school district presented with an opportunity to save millions of dollars in energy costs, implement a new curriculum and substantially reduce its carbon footprint," says Superintendent Gwen Gross. "This plan will accomplish all three without our district incurring any upfront costs."

Although the time line for this project has not been carved in stone, Gross expects installation to begin at Rancho San Joaquin Middle School in late March 2010. All 21 sites are scheduled to be completed within three to four years.