San Francisco achieves first with school solar panels

Alvarado Elementary School
Mike Koozmin/The S.F. Examiner
Alvarado Elementary School in Noe Valley now gets power from 180 solar panels; more schools are in line for solar energy installations.
Alvarado Elementary School in Noe Valley is a white-walled, two-story building that stretches for a city block just east of Twin Peaks. Nothing on the exterior of the building, constructed in the early 1900s, would lead passers-by to realize that what sits atop it is a first for San Francisco.

The 180 panels perched atop the school are the first that were designed, installed and owned by city agencies.

There are 14 municipal solar installations in and around The City, according to the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission. The 7.4 megawatts that are generated by the system help the agency — which also generates electricity with its Hetch Hetchy water system — power public services and buildings in San Francisco, including Muni and schools.

But each of the solar projects that had been built before included contracts with private contractors in some form, including for designing the installations. This time, it was done in-house.

“SFPUC solar engineers, along with consultants, designed the solar system and purchased the equipment, while [the Public Works Department] provided the people power to build the array,” SFPUC General Manager Harlan Kelly Jr. said in a statement.

The agency said the in-house process takes a lot less time.

“By using its own engineers, consultants and unionized workforce, The City is streamlining the construction and purchasing protocols for solar arrays,” the SFPUC said in a statement.

The Alvarado project, which went online in November, is the first of more installations planned at SFUSD sites. Three schools — Cesar Chavez Elementary School, Downtown High School and Thurgood Marshall High School — could have solar panels within the next two years, according to the SFPUC.

“Given the success of the Alvarado school solar project, we are confident that this partnership with our fellow city agencies will grow,” said Public Works Director Mohammed Nuru.

Supervisors Scott Wiener and Eric Mar sponsored legislation in March 2012 to allow the SFPUC to work toward installing solar panels on buildings owned by the San Francisco Unified School District. Mayor Ed Lee signed the legislation into law in April of that year.

SFUSD spokeswoman Gentle Blythe said the solar power from The City is a good deal and is in line with the strides the district has made in the past five years to move toward sustainable environments throughout its schools.

“The City provides us with the lowest rates for solar power in the country, and taking part in this new SFPUC program is an important way to contribute to San Francisco’s overall renewable energy goals” she said.

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