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Manteca Unified striving for A+ energy savings

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POSTED September 12, 2012 11:40 p.m.

The wave of the future when it comes to local government efficiency is coming to a neighborhood near you.

• The City of Manteca is currently exploring solar panels over the 500-plus parking spaces at the Big League Dreams sports complex to whittle away at the $1.1 million annual PG&E bill required to run the nearby municipal wastewater treatment plant.

• Manteca Unified is preparing to embark on a solar power initiative with the bottom line of being able to slice $3.2 million a year from energy costs. That obviously translates into a lot of teacher salaries or about enough to cover the faculty pay and benefits for one elementary campus.

Unlike many other large installations in Manteca, the school solar panels will be rather obvious. Target and Kohl’s, for example, have expansive solar power systems atop their roofs but you can’t see them from the street level. That won’t be the case at schools where panels are most likely to do double duty as shade structures in parking lots.

Designed right, they aren’t as obtrusive as one might think.

The district is now circulating poster-sized photographs of what the solar installations could look like at various schools targeted for the project. The goal is to seek input.

If you live across from a school you’d be wise to contact school officials to see whether the campus is on the list of schools to get solar panels. You will want to see how they are designed and make suggestions that might visually enhance the project.

The schools obviously are under no obligation to bend to the wishes of neighbors since unlike other private and even public property California law only requires schools to comply with state architect office rules and not those of local jurisdictions.

That doesn’t mean putting your two cents in won’t be worth it.

In checking on issues at other schools in California and elsewhere that have gone solar, input from neighbors has resulted in minor tweaking that have made solar panels more palatable from a visual standpoint. Most of the tweaks involved screening ground level installations that could be part of the mix in Manteca Unified. Obviously trees can’t be planted in the line of the sun’s rays but they can on the north side as an example. The district, though is open to reasonable suggestions. This is the time to make those suggestions.

Parking lot installations will most likely involve the removal of some trees. But on a whole, it should be a big improvement over just looking at an expanse of asphalt. It also will help cool nearby ground temperatures.

Similar solar installations over parking in the Bay Area are almost universally embraced by providing shade for cars in the summer heat and protection in damp weather.

And the solar panels as “car ports” definitely are an improvement over endless asphalt.

About the only Bay Area flaps are miscues where landscaping that did not interfere with the solar panels was inadvertently removed by contractors that naturally raised the ire of neighbors.

Manteca Unified already deserves high marks for energy savings initiatives. Last year, the Environmental Protection Agency recognized Manteca Unified as being in the top 25 percent district nationwide when it came to energy conservation. In the initial 19 months of the district’s energy program, some $2 million was saved in PG&E bills.

All of it was done by engaging staff district wide to better manage the power systems already in place through organization and behavioral changes.

The solar initiative could just take Manteca Unified to the front of the class when it comes to mastering energy savings.



This column is the opinion of managing editor, Dennis Wyatt, and does not necessarily represent the opinion of The Bulletin or Morris Newspaper Corp. of CA.  He can be contacted at dwyatt@mantecabulletin.com or 209-249-3519.

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