By Allison Jarrell
A coalition of students representing four area high schools presented 1,438 signatures to the Capistrano Unified School District Board of Trustees on Aug. 17, requesting the board explore the feasibility of installing solar panels at each of the district’s high school campuses.
Russell Tran, a junior at San Juan Hills High School, led the call for action, followed by five students from high school environmental clubs, including San Clemente High School’s Blue Ocean Club. The solar petition was launched in March, and Tran said the group has been working with CUSD’s Business and Support Services Department since 2014 to explore solar projects.
The petition, Tran said, was a friendly way to demonstrate the community support for a solar project. The students presented the board with the economic, environmental and educational benefits of solar panels, as well as potential funding mechanisms such as Prop 39 funds, low interest loans from the California Energy Commission, general obligation bonds and clean renewable energy bonds. Ultimately, the students requested the board pursue a solar feasibility analysis.
Superintendent Kirsten Vital said after speaking with Clark Hampton, Deputy Superintendent of Business and Support Services, on potential next steps, staff’s recommendation was to do a request for proposals to understand and assess whether solar panel installations would “pencil out” for the district.
“There was a time in which it didn’t pencil out, especially for districts purchasing equipment,” Vital said. “It took the life of it before you actually realized savings. But that is changing.”
Hampton said the students’ idea of buying solar systems was a good one and important to include in the district’s analysis due to difficulties other organizations have had with solar lease programs and payments.
Trustees commended the students for their work, while also emphasizing the need for conservation of energy in addition to pursuing such a project.
“We’re constantly hearing around the school district of wasteful practices like air conditioning units running on empty bungalows or portables, the lights in this building, it’s a common theme,” said Trustee Jim Reardon. “So I would hope that in the process of bringing forward a feasible plan for generation of electricity, we also look at how we can conserve the electricity that we’re actually using.”
Hampton said staff is already working with Schneider Electric, the district’s Prop 39 partner, on concurrently analyzing solar prospects, energy management systems and conservation practices.
The board directed staff to send out an RFP per Vital’s recommendation.