Link to Owner Dr. Robert B. Pamplin Jr.



The district follows state law for new construction; three existing schools already have solar technology.

SUBMITTED PHOTO - Soon more Beaverton schools will have solar arrays on their rooftops. This aerial view of Springville K-8 School shows a 2011 project with a private investor, but new schools will generate electricity with funding from a voter-approved bond measure.Like Little Orphan Annie, the Beaverton School District is hoping the sun will come out tomorrow.

But more in tune with Daddy Warbucks’ bank account, the district must spend $5 million of taxpayer money to transform that sunlight into electricity that will turn on school lights and computers.

As the district ramps up plans to construct three new schools and rebuild four old ones that will use nearly half of the $680 million bond measures voters passed last year, its blueprints will include large arrays of solar panels on the rooftops of at least some of those big buildings.

Under a state law that wasn’t in effect when district voters last approved a construction bond in 2006, public agencies must devote 1.5 percent of the cost of new buildings to producing renewable energy on site. The mandate helps the state and school district meet goals to transition to cleaner energy sources.

Geothermal energy is unavailable and wind energy is impractical on campuses, so Beaverton school officials must turn to solar energy production, said Dick Steinbrugge, the district’s executive administrator for facilities.

While expensive up front, Beaverton school leaders believe the investment in renewable energy is consistent with what most of their patrons value during an era when many scientists increasingly warn that burning fossil fuels such as gasoline, natural gas and heating oil are leading to climate shifts.

“I think it’s fair to say we think (solar power) reflects the values of our community,” Steinbrugge said.

“I would say this area is very much engaged in that,” added Matt Lichtenfels, manager of the district’s energy and resource conservation program.

District officials said not all of the new buildings will be required to have the panels as long as the overall mandate is met. They have concluded that the systems will definitely go on the roof of the high school to be built in the South Cooper Mountain area and likely atop the middle school set for construction in the Timberland area north of Highway 26; both projects slated to begin this year.

“Beyond that,” Steinbrugge said, “we haven’t figured it out yet.”

SUBMITTED PHOTO - Workers installed thin-film solar arrays atop three Beaverton schools in 2011.This won’t be the first time the district has stepped into the solar business. In 2011, officials partnered with private investor Kenyon Energy, which installed about $1.5 million worth of solar systems on three district rooftops.

It was a complex agreement made possible by a state “feed-in tariff” law that allowed the investor to sell renewable energy back to utility companies at well above the market rate, offering an incentive for investment in cleaner fuel technologies. The investor pockets most of that difference, but the school district has been saving about $20,000 a year on its electric bill.

Renewal of the feed-in tariff, or FIT, is one of several solar energy-promoting bills the Oregon Legislature is considering this session. The Beaverton School District supports the FIT program.

The district’s existing solar production uses a lightweight “thin-film” technology because Steinbrugge said its buildings — Elmonica Elementary, Springville K-8 and Health & Science schools — weren’t originally designed for heavy solar panels that require anchoring systems that penetrate roofs.

The new buildings, by contrast, will be designed from the ground up to accommodate the crystalline solar panels, which are better energy producers, Steinbrugge said.

Steinbrugge and Lichtenfels don’t yet know precisely how much solar energy their future system will produce, but they expect it to be many times the electricity currently generated at the three existing schools. Those systems don’t produce nearly enough to fully power the school buildings — except during the height of summer at the smaller Elmonica — but together they do supply the equivalent electricity to power 26 homes for the year while reducing harmful emissions.

The new installations will further reduce the district’s energy costs, but officials acknowledged that solar technology typically takes many years to pay back the initial investment.

While the new solar panels live up to state law and satisfy community values, Lichtenfels focuses much of his attention on less visible projects, such as aggressively improving the energy efficiency of existing school buildings.

Tapping into state and federal sources, and leveraging money from BSD's 2006 bond, Lichtenfels has been directing the long-term replacement of the district’s less efficient heating, cooling and lighting systems with stingier equipment. The district also has improved insulation in some buildings and is in the process of replacing older windows as it moves down a list of most cost-effective measures.

“It’s always best to conserve where you can before adding that renewable part on top,” he said.

The district already has a total of 31 of its schools that qualify for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Energy Star certification — more than any district in Oregon. That list will get longer as improvements planned under the bond and other funding sources tackle existing schools, and its new ones are built for higher efficiency, Steinbrugge said.

Through the city of Beaverton, the district is part of the U.S. Department of Energy’s Better Buildings Challenge and is on track to hit a target of making its buildings 20 percent more efficient by 2020, Steinbrugge said.

Solar Activity

Want to track how the Beaverton School District's existing solar technology is producing electricity and reducing greenhouse gases? Find data for Springville K-8 School at the Solar4RSchools website and use the Schools & Projects tab on the right to find data for Beaverton Health & Science, Elmonica Elementary and projects elsewhere.

By Eric Apalategui
Beaverton Reporter
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