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Panels save funds, energy

District solar projects conserve monies

By Lorenzo Morotti, associate editor
On March 15, 2014

  • Versatility — CCC softball pitcher Vanessa Kersten will play at pitcher and catcher this season. Erik Verduzco / The Advocate
  • When the solar panels went online in 2008, the district’s kilowatt expenses began to gradually decline. Lorenzo Morotti and George Morin / The Advocate
  • When the solar panels went online in 2008, the district’s kilowatt expenses began to gradually decline. Lorenzo Morotti and George Morin / The Advocate

More than $1.3 million has been saved in avoided energy costs for the district since 2011 with the help of solar panels that harness power from the sun.
Solar energy, however, is not enough to eclipse the district's demand for electricity.
Electricity purchased through the Pacific Gas & Electric Company makes up the rest of Contra Costa Community College District's energy needs.
CCCCD Energy Manager David Vasnaik said using solar energy effectively and avoiding energy waste is necessary to reduce the amount of electricity the district uses.
The district has paid about $4 million in electrical expenses over the past two years, Vasnaik said.
"If we (CCC) can reduce PG&E's need to produce energy to power, the college's energy usage will also (decline)," he said.
CCC's solar panels, that provide cover for 34 parking spots in Lot 10, saved the college $81,199 in energy costs last year. In the 2011-12 fiscal year, the solar panels saved the college $11,000 extra.
Buildings and Grounds Manager Bruce King said, "They (solar panels) do not power the whole campus, only a couple of buildings." He said it is impossible to tell which specific buildings receive the solar energy.
Since 2011, Diablo Valley College and Los Medanos College have cut their energy costs by $523,931 and $639,532, respectively.
King said the reason for the savings being higher at CCC's sister colleges is because they have more space to place the solar panels. Large buildings with lots of classrooms draw a large amount of power.
Vasnaik said campuses with larger structures will often see larger amounts of money saved through solar power.
"DVC and LMC have solar panels in two or three parking lots," King said. "We only have it in the one."
The solar panels came to be after the CCCCD received $286.5 million from Bond Measure A in 2006.
The solar panels went online in January 2008. At the time they were installed, the panels were projected to save the district more than $70 million over 25 years.
The demand for energy at colleges in the district has decreased. In 2008 the district saw the most energy expenses accrued. It paid more than $3 million in expenses to PG&E that single year.

Ultra-violet energy
Solar power has saved CCC 1,092,884 kilowatt hours since 2011 according a report compiled by Vasnaik. This translates into $173,440 in avoided electrical costs for the campus.
"The solar panels almost never turn the meters on campus backward," he said.
Every campus in the district has a base-load of electricity flowing through its meters. A base-load is the smallest amount of current the college needs to maintain its lights at night or when the school is empty.
The base-load of energy that flows into CCC's grid is about 500,000 kilowatts an hour. This number fluctuates at different colleges in the district, Vasnaik said.
"The campus' peak production hours for solar energy are from 1 to 2 p.m.," Vasniak said.
"Let's say that at this time the solar panels are only creating 40 percent of the needed electricity into the meters on campus. PG&E will have make up the difference. In this case, there would be a difference of 60 percent." 

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Residents of San Pablo, CA that are looking to save on energy costs should explore adding a home solar panel system to their house, as this will also help to increase their green footprint.

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