Local schools like Cathedral Catholic reaping benefits of going solar


Cathedral Catholic High School recently completed work on its 1.1 megawatt solar system on campus, housed on carports over the school parking lot. The system is expected to help the school achieve savings of $80,000 to $100,000 a year in its electrical energy costs.

The project was commissioned on Valentine’s Day in February and the school held an official ribbon cutting and blessing of the solar system on March 14, reinforcing Cathedral’s mission of educating students about the importance of “caring for the earth and its people through the use of renewable energy and other smart environmental strategies.”

“We’re focusing on being a green school. We want to be responsible citizens and good caretakers of the earth. That’s part of our commitment as Catholics,” Cathedral Catholic President Stevan Laaperi said. “The savings we realize as a result of going solar will reduce our energy costs and help keep tuition increases to a minimum. This will enable broader community access to the amazing education we provide here at Cathedral Catholic.”

The Catholic Diocese of San Diego had asked Cathedral to look into solar as a possibility, particularly if they could find outside funding. Baker Electric Inc. offered Cathedral creative financing for the system through a power purchase agreement. With the agreement, the school hosts the system that is paid for and owned by a third party, purchasing energy at a lower rate — Cathedral has the option to purchase the system outright in six years.

Over the last two years, Baker has been responsible for all of the civil, electrical and structural design of the project, made to complement the school’s building colors and façade,including the incorporation of brick.

“We’re were very pelased by the asethetics of the project,” Laaperi said, noting they are not obtrusive structures and blend with the school’s Tuscan architectural style.

According to Scott Williams, director of commercial solar for Baker Electric, the Cathedral project is one of over 22 solar projects for educational facilities they have completed in San Diego County. By the end of 2017, they will have built an estimated total of 5.89 megawatts.

As Cathedral’s system is 1.1 megawatts, it shows how significant the project is.

“It’s the largest photovoltaic system we’ve built for a school in San Diego County,” Williams said, noting that they have built larger PV systems for other schools outside of San Diego and have built larger utility scale projects as well.

“We’re proud of helping schools lead positive change in the community, endorsing clean energy and reducing their electric bill so they can use those funds saved to develop educational programs,” Williams said. “The benefit of schools installing solar is that they set a great example of environmental stewardship and the positive use of renewable energy.”

The solar installation builds on the school’s previous environmental endeavors such as installing 80,000 square feet of artificial turf and switching to efficient LED lighting, which consumes 90 percent less power than old-style incandescent bulbs. They also installed car chargers available for faculty, staff and students during the school day and to the community at large in the evenings.

“Our bills have been substantially lower so it’s already doing what it’s supposed to do,” said Laaperi, noting that their typical SDG&E bill had hovered around $40,000 a month and the last one received was about $4,000.

Cathedral is not the only local school taking advantage of solar power.

Canyon Crest Academy down the street installed a solar system over the carports in its parking lot in 2010. As of last year, the solar systems at CCA and La Costa Canyon High School had paired to save the district more than $3.4 million in energy costs.

Solar also factors into the construction of San Dieguito Union High School District’s new Earl Warren Middle School campus, set to open this fall.

At neighboring Solana Ranch Elementary School, the Solana Beach School District is realizing approximately 60 percent off-set with its solar installation.

“Solar panels reduce overall operating expenses at the school, are a good alternative renewable energy source, and will continue to generate power for 20-plus years with low maintenance costs,” said Caroline Brown, the district’s executive director of capital programs and technology.

Solar projects are planned for each of the Solana Beach School District’s projects funded by their general obligation bond Measure JJ.

Solana Pacific Elementary School, located in Carmel Valley, is scheduled for a solar panel installation this summer. Brown said they will expect approximately 45 percent off-set by installing solar canopies in the parking lot. Solana Highlands Elementary School in Carmel Valley is also scheduled to receive solar panels on the south-facing roofs and with an expected off-set of approximately 40 percent.

Skyline Elementary School in Solana Beach is undergoing a complete reconstruction during the 2017-18 school year and is scheduled to receive solar panels in the parking lot as well over the student lunch area. The district anticipates a 60 percent off-set at Skyline, according to Brown.