Tuesday, Mar 09 2010 05:38 PM

Bakersfield College set to install solar panels

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    Photo courtesy of Bakersfield College Bakersfield College plans to cover its northeast parking lot with solar panels. The project will provide about a third of the campus' energy needs, and unused energy will be sold back to the PG&E power grid.

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BY COURTENAY EDELHART, Californian staff writer

Bakersfield College plans to cover its northeast parking lot with solar panels. The project will supply about a third of the campus' energy needs, and power generated when school is not in session will be sold back to the power grid.

The school says the $8.3 million project will generate an estimated 2.1 million kilowatt hours annually, and factoring in energy savings, rebates and tax breaks, will be budget neutral.

"There are a lot of incentives right now to do these kinds of projects, so we wanted to act quickly before they went away," said college spokeswoman Amber Chiang.

That also was part of the motivation behind a similar, earlier announced project planned for Cal State Bakersfield.

Bakersfield College's contractor, SunPower Corp. of San Jose, plans to break ground in June, after the Amgen bike race. The system could go live as early as this fall.

The solar panels will track the sun as it moves across the sky, which generates about 25 percent more energy than fixed-panel solar systems, Chiang said.

The system will displace more than 52 million pounds of carbon dioxide over the next 30 years, equivalent to removing more than 4,300 cars from California highways, Chiang said.

And it will have the added bonus of providing shade to the 756-parking space lot at the corner of Panorama Drive and Mt. Vernon Avenue.

"In summertime, those spots will be premium parking," BC President Greg Chamberlain said in a statement via e-mail. "I know I'd like to have a bit of shade when the outside temperatures climb above 100 and the inside of my car feels like an oven."

Student Marisela Santiago, 18, drives to school and called the shade a great perk.

"It gets really, really hot when the air conditioning's not running, so that would be nice to go back to a cooler car," she said.

And, of course, there's the environmental contribution, said Sterling Bravo, 20.

"I think it's a smart idea," he said. "Instead of gathering man-made resources, we can use the natural resources of the sun."

Bakersfield College's unveiling of its plans follows CSUB's announcement that it will build a solar energy system this summer on Lot E south of its campus health center and part of Lot I south of its gym.

The university is in the process of transplanting about 50 trees to make way for the panels, which will be constructed, owned and maintained by SunEdison of Beltsville, Md. SunEdison will sell the solar power generated there to the university at a discount, said university spokeswoman Pat Keefer. The system is expected to meet 20 percent to 30 percent of the university's energy needs and be up and running by this fall.

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