Adams School ceremony marks completion of projects through district
As an excessive heat warning came in Santa Barbara County and other parts of Southern California, Adams Elementary School hosted a ribbon cutting and “flipped the switch” Wednesday for the power of the sun.
The ceremony marked Santa Barbara Unified School District’s completion of 14 solar panel projects across the district, including one at Adams School.
The projects, which were developed with the expertise of the France-headquartered multinational energy company ENGIE, will reduce demand on the electrical grid by an estimated nearly 7 million kilowatts per year — roughly the amount of electricity used by more than 1,200 households in Santa Barbara County.
Per the agreement, ENGIE will maintain and operate the projects for 28 years.
“The scope of this program is one of the first for a school district in California,” said Alesko Standkowski, ENGIE vice president of North America, during the outdoor ceremony by Adams School’s solar panels.
“Essentially, this is creating a power insurance policy for the district as wildfires continue to create public safety power shutoff events,” he said. “Eight million dollars is generated just from the energy savings alone, and (there’s) $6.5 million of value added benefits from the resiliency component (of the project).”
Laura Capps, a SBUSD trustee and soon-to-be 2nd District county supervisor, heralded the project as an important step in the district’s goals to help the city of Santa Barbara achieve its goal of a zero emissions future. She also noted the solar panels mean greater fiscal maneuverability.
“This is a great day for our schools, for our climate, and for our community,” she said. “First of all, it’s a win for our finances — this project will save $8 million over the lifetime of the project, which is money that can go directly back into the classroom. And it is clearly a win for our community — this will help us reach Santa Barbara city’s target of zero emissions.”
“Santa Barbara Unified School District is one of the largest property owners in South County,” Ms. Capps continued. “So now, finally, we are doing our part by transitioning (to renewable energy). Just a few years ago (SBUSD was) 0% reliant on renewables, but with this project we’ll be 94 to 98% reliant on renewables.”
Desmond Ho, the SBUSD operations and sustainability coordinator, used his remarks to detail some of the historic challenges that the district faced in taking on this project.
And he discussed future plans for increasing the district’s use of solar power.
“With the forward-thinking board and superintendent, the solar project was conceived in about 2019 and the design of the project happened throughout 2020 and 2021,” he said. “The first sites to undergo construction were Cleveland Elementary and La Colina Junior High School in October of 2021. Adams Elementary was the third site for installation that began in November of 2021.”
“Construction of the solar project could not have happened during a more difficult time,” Mr. Ho noted. “We worked through the pandemic, supply chain issues, and other numerous challenges to come to this day where we can finally provide clean energy.
“Our microgrid sites — which are sites that will also incorporate battery storage — are under construction, and we anticipate those are going to be finished by the end of this year,” he said. “Those sites will provide resiliency to the schools and also the community in the event of power disruptions.”
Craig Lewis, who is the founder and executive director of Clean Coalition and played a role in shepherding the project, further applauded the project as a means to get ahead of the next disaster that could impact power supplies and delivery in Santa Barbara County.
“Our transmission lines run 40 miles long up the backside of the mountains, and they come all the way up from Ventura right through the heart of fire, landslide, and earthquake risk,” he explained. “Southern California Edison has been very clear that those transmission lines could be down for months at a time depending on what takes them down.”
“The time to prepare for disaster is not while the disaster is happening, it’s in advance of when the next disaster is going to happen,” Mr. Lewis continued. “We don’t know if it’s a fire, a landslide, an earthquake, or an act of terrorism — there are disasters coming to our community, it’s just a fact of life.
“Luckily, the solution is really straightforward: it’s doing a lot more of these projects throughout the SB region. The Clean Coalition has a vision for a community microgrid that will provide 100% solar-driven resilience to the entire Santa Barbara region.”