By Ari Bird

Santa Cruz’s reputation as an environmentally conscious and progressive city may be taken to a higher level as Santa Cruz City schools consider converting the entire district’s energy supply to solar power.

Later this month, trustees of the district will vote on a contract that proposes investment into the Santa Cruz-based company, Solar Technologies, which would install photovoltaic cells at every school in the district.

Photovoltaic cells collect sunlight and transfer the gathered energy to module inverters, converting power into a usable source of electricity, explained Solar Design Consultant Josh Lubecky. According to Lubecky, excess energy is either stored in a battery bank or sold back to the utility companies.

“As the population grows and we have high-energy needs, a more sustainable source [of energy] is better for us, and for the state of California,” Lubecky said.

He stated that providing the community with the means to create its own power would reap widespread benefits, and because school districts have high power needs, they would provide ideal locations for solar panels.

The district burns through more than four million kilowatt hours or energy every year. However, this solar power installation could cut the district’s electricity use by 92 percent.

This could potentially lead to $3 million in savings over the next twenty years. However, the installation costs are approximated at $24 million.

Though the monetary cost is high, the district will be more environmentally sound if this plan is passed.

Solar panel installation will remove three million pounds of carbon dioxide in the air each year, according to the California Energy Commission.

Solar panel installation was initially a business venture rather than an ethical issue pushed by local community members, but School Board President Rachel Dewey Thorsett concluded that this venture is generally supported.

“What we have heard from parents and the faculty is that they mostly want to do things that are environmentally sound,” Thorsett said.

DeLaveaga Elementary School, located on Morrissey Boulevard, was one of about 20 California schools to participate in a PG&E program that offered free photovoltaic solar electric system installation in 2004.

DeLaveaga Principal David Freed commented that a district-wide adoption of the use of solar energy can decrease the expenses of utilities and increase spending possibilities in areas such as art, music, and forms of alternative learning, including visits from guest speakers.

“Parents really appreciate the installation,” Freed concluded. “Anything to save money for kids.”