The kids at Los Medanos Elementary School in Pittsburg were chattering all morning about a visitor from the White House, and a welcome banner hung over the entrance to the main hall for Nancy Sutley, President Barack Obama's chief environmental adviser.
Sutley, accompanied by Rep. George Miller, D-Martinez, paid a call to see what the school and the Pittsburg district have accomplished in energy conservation, both with changing energy-use habits and installing solar panels at all the schools.
Los Medanos was chosen as an Energy Star-certified school by the Department of Energy after reducing its energy usage nearly 33 percent by dimming lights, shutting down its heating and air conditioning system on nights and weekends and commissioning an energy audit to identify other efficiencies.
The school has saved $114,437 on its energy bills since the beginning of 2009, money that can be used for educational programs when the costs of the program are paid off.
The district as a whole has saved $1.65 million by adopting similar measures at its other 10 campuses.
"The president has made school modernization a priority, including energy upgrades," Sutley said. "It's an opportunity to create jobs and save money."
California will receive $2.8 billion for school upgrades if Obama's jobs bill, currently before the Senate, passes both houses intact.
The 2009 American Recovery Act, more commonly known as the stimulus bill, had no money specifically earmarked for school energy programs, although states could use the money for that purpose, Sutley said.
Pittsburg recently finished an eight-month program of installing solar panels at 10 of its 11 school sites that are reducing electricity consumption by an average of 85 to 95 percent, said Charles Jones, the district's energy education manager.
The district spent $18.5 million from Measure L, a school construction bond passed by voters Nov. 2, to purchase and install the panels, said Enrique Palacios, associate superintendent for business services.
The panels have a 30-year expected life span and will offset the equivalent of 10 million gallons of gasoline, according to representatives from Rohnert Park-based Stellar Energy, the contractor on the project.
Principal Angela Stevenson led Sutley and Miller on a tour of the Los Medanos campus, where they viewed an array of 700 solar panels installed in a fenced-in area next to the school's main playing field.
The two guests visited a classroom where fifth-graders were using screens that can be seen better with the classroom lights turned off.
"A lot of people think (saving energy) is a fantasy, but it's real," Miller said.
Contact Rick Radin at 925-779-7166.