Solar at OCC may mean less cost, more classes

Orange Coast College officials think they could generate up to 40% of their own electricity and offer more summer classes as a result of recently approved bond money.

In November, voters passed Coast Community College District's $698-million bond measure for rehabilitation and construction at the district's campuses.

According to school officials, the first tangible return on investment taxpayers can expect to see will be slim, black and likely covering a parking lot: solar panels.

Measure M dedicates almost $9 million to "photovoltaic installations" — solar panels in layman's terms — to be built across the district's facilities in Costa Mesa, Newport Beach, Fountain Valley and Huntington Beach.

"Our board has made a commitment to sustainability," spokeswoman Martha Parham said, noting the district's headquarters and newest campus in Newport Beach are LEED certified.

One of the first projects will likely be a shade structure with solar panels built over OCC's Adams Avenue parking lot that could ideally generate 1.5 megawatts of power, Sustainability Coordinator Mike Carey said.

OCC's student newspaper first reported the college's plan.

There's no estimate yet on what savings that translates to in OCC's $1.2 million annual energy costs, but Carey said flexibility would be one game-changing benefit.

"We're hoping to offset 25% to 40% of our electrical needs, and the big thing that would allow us to do is hopefully get off the [Southern California] Edison peak demand charges."

By supplementing its energy intake during the sunniest, hottest parts of days, the campus could counter-balance the power drain of blasting air conditioners.

"It's really cost prohibitive to offer a lot of courses in the summer," Carey said. "That is one of the big reasons that we have limited summer offerings because of the eventual cost per student."

OCC's panels are just a piece of the districtwide plan that pulls from Measure M's $8.6 million designated for solar.

Officials are looking for a consultant to assess where installation will fare best across all the district's facilities.

But OCC's largest parking lot just off of Adams is a logical choice that would keep the panels off aging rooftops, Carey said.

"Plus we're trying to get the biggest bang for our buck," he said, explaining that the parking lot gives them a clear southbound view. "There's only certain ways solar can face to be truly affective."

Before the process begins, the district must sell the Measure M bonds.

Within the next few weeks, the board will approach a bond-rating agency to receive a grade for the debt.

Officials expect to issue the first series in May, Parham said — with construction likely starting a year beyond that.

"I think realistically we're looking at construction beginning and hopefully terminating in the summer of 2014," Carey said.

Twitter: @jeremiahdobruck

Copyright © 2019, Daily Pilot
EDITION: California | U.S. & World