Nov. 27, 2012
Tracy Wilson, contributor
On its hillside campus on the valley’s agricultural East End, Ojai Valley School is planting a crop intended to yield a harvest of a different kind — energy.
For the past six weeks, crews have dug into a south-facing slope to install what is believed to be the largest solar project in the Ojai Valley, a gleaming checkerboard of dark blue panels designed to cut energy costs, curb the school’s carbon footprint and serve as a learning laboratory for the 110 high school students who attend the OVS Upper Campus.
The project, launched in partnership with HelioPower and Southern California Edison, includes 1,001 solar panels and will cover 19,016 square feet of hillside and rooftops.
The system is projected to supply 85 percent of the electrical demand for the Upper Campus, saving more than $64,000 a year in energy costs and reducing OVS’ annual carbon footprint by an estimated 299,000 pounds. With planned additional energy efficiency measures and greater conservation awareness, the school hopes to move closer to 100 percent renewable energy in coming years.
“The solar project continues the school’s commitment to sustainability and preservation of our natural resources,” OVS President Michael J. Hall-Mounsey said. “The school has taken a bold step to reduce its environmental impact and demonstrate that sustainable practices will be a cornerstone of the school experience as we enter our second century.”
Ojai Valley School made a decision in 2010, on the eve of its centennial, to create and chart a sustainability course for the next 100 years and beyond. Those efforts have received wide recognition, including the prestigious 2011 California Waste Reduction Award Program (WRAP) and the 2009 Ojai Valley Chamber of Commerce “Environmental Conscious Business of the Year” award.
Now, OVS is a finalist in the 2012 California Governor’s Environmental and Economic Leadership Award, which is widely considered the highest environmental award in the state.
On both of its campuses, the school has adopted comprehensive recycling programs, retrofitted lights with energy-efficient bulbs and fixtures, installed water-efficient irrigation systems and plumbing and added drought-tolerant and native plants. It constructed a wastewater treatment facility at the Upper Campus. And the school partners with local farmers, including Friends Ranch, to provide local produce in its dining halls.
Most importantly, Ojai Valley School incorporates environmental education into its curriculum — from earth science in pre-kindergarten to advanced placement environmental science in 12th grade — so students understand their role in preserving and protecting the planet.
“There is a constant message, going right on through from Pre-K to high school graduation, about how we take care of the planet,” said Carl S. Cooper, head of the school at the Upper Campus.
Located on 195 acres at the end of Reeves Road, the Upper Campus provides an ideal location for solar. In addition to its hilltop buildings, the campus has a wide south-facing slope to capture the sun’s rays.
The project is comparable to about 200 individual residential photovoltaic systems. It cost $1.5 million, but the school spent much less after taking advantage of grants and rebates.
“We have the space, we have the land, we have the southern exposure so we could take advantage of that clean source of energy,” Cooper said. “At the same time, we are increasing our consciousness about where our energy comes from when we turn on a switch and turn off a switch.”
Raising students’ understanding of alternative energy sources is one aspect of the AP environmental science class at OVS. The class examines the economic, social, cultural and political aspects of environmental science. This year, students will examine the new solar system, which is equipped with real-time monitoring tools, in their study of power use and the role alternative energy plays in a sustainable energy plan for an organization or a country.
Crystal Davis, the outdoor education director at the Upper Campus, has incorporated the project into her program as well. This academic quarter, she is teaching a seminar on marine science and ocean ecosystems. She challenged her high school students to identify how the new solar project will benefit the marine environment.
Recently, as crews continued the hillside installation, her students walked the narrow road though the Upper Campus and looked south over the gleaming panels in the late afternoon sun. They brainstormed how this project might fit into a bigger environmental puzzle.
“Accustomed to thinking of beach service as picking up trash and not polluting waterways, it took a few puzzled minutes for students to realize the far-reaching benefits of this large project,” she said. “They concluded that other sources of electricity, such as hydroelectric and nuclear, affect the ocean by reducing sediments to beaches and shorelines or by producing toxic wastes and potential catastrophes.
“Students came to realize that there is no crisp boundary between marine and terrestrial environments and that what we do on the coast and across the continents has a measurable impact on the seas,” Davis continued. “Most importantly, they agreed that the health of the ocean is inextricably tied to the survival of all life on the planet.”
Nov. 27, 2012