Central Valley Business Journal, May 3, 2012
By KEITH MICHAUD/Business Journal Editor
What was once a ragged looking parking lot, now is a tool for giving students real-world, relevant educational opportunities to study for future careers that provide clean energy.
The solar parking lot – large solar panels installed over six rows of parking spaces – is across the street from the San Joaquin County Office of Education Wentworth Education Center. Already it is helping reduce power costs at the Wentworth Education Center – on one recent day the solar panels captured more energy than the center needed – and reduce the district’s carbon footprint. And students now can go online and view performance data.
“I’m energized. I’m of high hope. I am inspired,” Tom Torlakson, California superintendent of public instruction, said at a March 29 ceremony to unveil the parking lot to the community.
The $2 million San Joaquin County Office of Education solar parking lot will provide students with learning opportunities connected with the solar energy system, according to a statement from the school district. It also will reduce by 86 percent the electricity costs at the county’s Wentworth Education Center by generating enough energy to power 100 homes, offset 28 million pounds of carbon dioxide over the next 30 years, and is the carbon equivalent of planting 60 acres of trees.
A California Department of Education Qualified Zone Academy Bond and donations from SolarCity and Pacific Gas and Electric funded the project.
The event – as much a fair to highlight green energy and the school district’s various offerings – was also used to tout the district’s 150 Club. The program nurtures partnerships between the district and businesses such as PG and E and SolarCity that help bring a better learning experience for students. Employees promise to speak with students one hour a month for five years – the 1 and 5 in 150 – with the business obligated to donate zero dollars.
County schools Superintendent Mick Founts said the program was intended to bring “significant role models” to schools to talk with students about various careers. The first group of professionals several years ago came from area hospitals and the result was higher science scores in that school, said Founts.
“This solar parking lot means so much for us,” said Founts speaking from a podium under the panels, “because of all the people involved.”
Pacific Gas and Electric and SolarCity were highlighted as businesses in particular that had contributed to the solar parking lot and the students’ educational experience.
“On behalf of PG and E, I’m very excited to be part of this celebration,” Ezra Garrett, vice president of community relations for the company, told the crowd. “We’re really proud of our relationship with this school district and the city of Stockton.”
“This is awesome,” Torlakson said of the 150 Club. “You’re contributing.”
He said that it was those sorts of partnerships that will help students find meaningful paths to their future careers.
“This is a role model for the whole state of California,” Torlakson said of the district’s partnerships with business.
After recognizing district students, teachers and administrators, Torlakson said, “Thank you, San Joaquin County. You’re champions.”
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