WALNUT CREEK -- Not to be outdone by smaller solar projects, the Mt. Diablo school district and SunPower Corp. have teamed up to build what they assert is the largest K-12 solar photovoltaic installation on earth.
On a windy day with the sun shining through wispy white clouds in a pale blue sky, district trustee Gary Eberhart ceremoniously "turned on the sun" by lowering a giant red lever atop a makeshift stage in the Northgate High School parking lot between two solar carports.
With Howard Wenger, a SunPower president, looking on, Eberhart retraced the district's quest to save money while also being environmentally conscientious. The district will spend about $80 million to install a 12.1-megawatt system at 51 sites, but that initial expenditure is estimated to save the district $220 million over 30 years. It was funded with proceeds from $348 million Measure C bond approved by voters in 2010.
Superintendent Steven Lawrence said the district expects to save $3 million a year on electricity bills, while also generating $3 million a year in California Solar Incentive rebates for the next five years.
The feel-good, green-energy event drew Walnut Creek Mayor Pro Tem Kish Rajan and Contra Costa Supervisor Karen Mitchoff, as well as representatives for U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer and Rep. John Garamendi.
In addition to cutting the district's energy costs, the project will provide hands-on learning opportunities for students, Lawrence said. SunPower has worked with the Project Lead the Way engineering program to create curriculum materials focused on sustainable energy and is collaborating with the Contra Costa Economic Partnership to offer 40 paid high school internships over the summer.
Mitchoff praised the project for bringing 140 jobs and about $24 million to the region. The congressional representatives presented district officials with commendations, including a "Conservation Champion" award from Boxer.
Wenger's praise for Mt. Diablo was nearly out-of-this world.
Compared to other school solar projects, he said, Mt. Diablo is "No. 1 on the planet."
"You are really helping us change the way the world is powered," he said.