Solar Panels are above the parking lot

Dana Adds Solar Panels

As all of the returning students may have noticed, the biggest change at school since last year is the solar panel project, which completely transformed the Dana Hills parking lots. In fact, the entire project came into place because of dedicated students in solar and environmental clubs from San Juan, San Clemente, Tesoro High and Dana Hills, who petitioned for years for this to become a reality. In 2015, 14-year-old San Juan Hills High School freshman Russell Tran founded the EAT Club (Ecology Action Team) which pioneered efforts to persuade the Capistrano Unified School District (CUSD) to adopt solar as their main power source, and that original club’s ideas soon spread to other schools. Their efforts came to fruition when on Dec. 6, 2017 it was approved by the CUSD Board of Trustees.

Construction at Dana began this summer, and currently all of the high schools in our district have either completed or are in the middle of construction. According to CUSDWatch, although $26 million in funding was approved through the sales of bonds, only about $21 million will be needed to complete the project at all six high schools as well as the district offices.

CUSD chose to purchase the solar system rather than lease it out, showing its long term commitment to both cleaner energy and lower energy costs. Instead of paying approximately $115 million in electrical costs without the benefits of solar power over the next 25 years, they will pay around $94 million instead by utilizing the parking lot solar panels, leading to a savings of around $21 million, or $849,000 a year. In addition to their savings, there will be an estimated $100,000 to $200,000 in revenue due to the financing.

When taking all of these savings and profits into consideration, the solar panels will theoretically pay for themselves within around 25 years. After which there will be a steady, continuous net savings of nearly a million dollars each year. However, solar panels are only guaranteed to last about 20 to 30 years, with a loss of efficiency of about .8% each year, and after such time they must be replaced, which will cost the school district another round of installation costs, though likely not as expensive as the original 25 million, for the foundations and infrastructure are in place and only the crystalline panels at the top will likely need to be replaced.

So, assuming nothing goes wrong, such as a storm, an earthquake or other event that may cause damage and increase costs even more, the solar panels will barely pay for themselves in about 25 years. At this time in the future, the school district will be put in debt again as the solar panels will need to be replaced; it will be likely 30 plus years before we see any net profit from the panels.

Although solar panels will not be profitable soon, Dana as well as the other high schools in the district will be taking a huge initiative in reducing their carbon footprint and lessening pollution. By using solar power, CUSD is making an important step in the integration to cleaner, renewable sources of energy that is necessary to ensure the future of our planet.

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