Helios in Greek myth was the sun god who drove a chariot daily from east to west across the sky and sailed across the ocean each night in a huge cup.
KyotoUSA, a volunteer group which encourages cities to work with their governments to reduce greenhouse emissions, is all set to redefine the word in its own way.
“The HELiOS project stands for Helios Energy Lights Our Schools,” said Tom Kelly, a Berkeley resident and member of KyotoUSA who spoke in favor of a solar project at Washington Elementary School at the Berkeley Board of Education meeting last week. “The Washington school project is our way of demonstrating that we can achieve even more than personal reductions in Green House Gas emissions and do it in a way that has many important benefits.”
The Berkeley Unified School District estimates the cost of the project to be $1,250,000, which takes into account the cost of putting in photovoltaic panels as well as replacing the current roof.
The board refrained from approving the project Wednesday, putting on hold an opportunity for staff to apply for $750,000 in funds from the Office of Public School Construction (OPSC) and ratification of an application for $305,000 in PG&E funds.
The school bond Measure AA would contribute $195,000 toward the cost. The OPSC funds could also be used for other construction needs at Washington, but the district would first have to identify funds to make the 40 percent match.
“We had not thought about the new roof or the soft costs when we first came up with the project,” Kelly said. “As a result we had calculated the cost of the project to be $800,000. But I guess the roof is old and needs to be repaired.”
School superintendent Michele Lawrence told the Planet Monday that repair of the roof at Washington Elementary had been long pending.
“The solar project is a good project, but we have many good projects. That is the most difficult part,” she said. “We have provided the board with a lot of information and they need to deliberate how the HELiOS project falls in line with the others.”
Kelly said that KyotoUSA had discussed the possibility of carrying out the HELiOS project at several Berkeley school sites but had finally decided on Washington Elementary.
“KyotoUSA is made up of volunteers, not financial moguls or energy experts,” he said. “We want to start with a small project. We also need a school with a good roof, one that gets a lot of sun and does not have a lot of things on it. Washington also has a single meter for the main building which is what we are looking for.”
Kelly said that Berkeley High School would also be a great location for the project but would be more expensive.
School board directors were divided in their opinion about the solar project and asked staff to come back with a comprehensive report on payback figures.
“It’s a pilot project because solar systems are something that public as well as private entities will need to look at sometime in the future,” said BUSD Facilities Manager Lew Jones. “The Washington project is risk-free as it will allow us to leverage several sources of capital without using the General Fund.”
Kelly told the Planet that the $3,054 cost to secure the PG&E rebate fund had already been paid by KyotoUSA donors. “We have 60 days from April 16 to submit the next ‘Proof of Project Milestone’ or the rebate reservation expires.”
School board director John Selawsky stressed the same point at the meeting.
“If we don’t do this in the next six months, the $305,000 in funds is going to become $225,000,” he said. “We are not inventing the project. It has been done before.” School districts in San Jose and San Diego and some individual schools in Marin have installed solar in their schools in the past.
Benefits of the HELiOS project to the district and the community claimd by proponents include:
• Significant cost savings to the district over the life of the system
• Environmental benefits including reduction in fossil fuel use, cleaner air and reduced GHGs
• Educational benefits that will flow from the presence of a PV system.
• Bringing in new donors and volunteers to assist in expanding the project beyond Washington School and the City of Berkeley
• Giving students tangible evidence that adults were taking climate change seriously and are doing something about it
Washington consumed approximately 170,560 KwH in energy and paid around $25,505 in electricity costs in 2006.
The size of the proposed PV system is 100KW (manufacturer’s rating), and it would produce 154,000 KwH annually—enough to cover 100 percent of the main building’s electricity needs. There is also a 25-year-old warranty on the panels.
“$25,000 will be saved in electricity bills in the first year and it will be more after that as energy costs will increase by 5 percent every year,” said Kelly. “Whatever the savings are, the district can put it into their General Fund or the Bond Fund.”
KyotoUSA proposed a model to the BUSD that allows the community to raise money to make the project “cost-neutral.”
“Cost-neutral means that the district will simply pay a lender for the PV system instead of paying PG&E for electricity,” said Kelly. “We are addressing questions that the school board brought up at the meeting—such as payback, rebates and matching funds—right now. This project is a necessity. We need to find ways to change from fossil fuel energy to renewable energy and we need to do it soon.”