Para Los Ninos goes green with help from new solar panels

Students at Para Los Ninos Charter Elementary School near Skid Row get pumped up when they talk about sustainable energy. For weeks, lessons about solar energy and other ways of generating green power have been incorporated into their math and science curriculums.

This week, students saw their studies come alive. California Solar Electric installed solar panels on the roof of the school that will generate enough energy to power eight of the downtown school’s classrooms.

The solar panels were a part of a $1.2 million Walmart Foundation grant to the National Energy Education Development Project. As a part of the Solar Schools Grant Initiative, Para Los Ninos and three other LA-area schools (Environmental Charter High School in Lawndale, Amino Inglewood Charter High School, and Amino South Los Angeles High School) were outfitted with solar panels.

Between the four schools, the solar panels are expected to save more than $4,700 in energy costs and prevent more than 127 tons of greenhouse gases from entering the atmosphere.

In addition to studying the science behind solar power, students seem to grasp some of the economic benefits as well.

Daniel, a fifth grade student at Para Los Ninos wanted other kids his age to know about the benefits of green energy. “If they start saving energy today, they can save money so they can have it as a grown up,” he said.

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LAUSD sustainability plan survives budget cuts

Plans to make Los Angeles Unified School District the most sustainable in the country continue to grow despite budget cuts across the district.

In February the district announced plans to move forward with a $350 million plan to install solar panels on eight district buildings.  The goal was to produce 50 megawatts of solar energy, the equivalent of removing 23million pounds of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

Since the solar project is funded entirely through local bond Measure Q, a 10-year bond totaling $7.2 billion, it is not affected by the statewide budget cuts.

Randy Britt, Director of Sustainability for LAUSD, said the project would ultimately provide thousands of green jobs without taking money away from the general fund.

“The completion of our projects will actually provide significant returns to the General Fund, which will ultimately relieve future pressure on the budget,” Britt said.

Recent graduates of one of LAUSD’s adult schools, the East Los Angeles Skills Center, will be the first offered jobs installing solar panels on district buildings.

Robert Salceo, a student at the skills center, said the new green jobs give him the job security he didn’t have when he worked in construction.

“We’re actually going to get a ‘We Build Green’ card when we finish the program. In order to get hired working for LAUSD working on those solar jobs, you have to have that card,” Salceo said. “Without that card you won’t be able to work so it’s a big step for us because we’ll be one of the first who will be getting hired for those jobs.”

With the “We Build Green” card Salceo said he could make between $28 and $36 an hour–$12 more per hour than his previous job.

While statewide budget cuts are not hurting LAUSD’s plan to install solar panels, the cuts are impacting students at the ELASC.

According to Brian Hurd, Director of the “We Build” programs at ELASC, the school has taken a 30 percent cut across the board, meaning less money for classes, supplies and teachers for a waiting list of more than 400 students.

“The biggest hit is the closing of our popular Saturday lab.  No more Saturday classes starting this summer,” Hurd said. “For teachers working Saturdays that is 6 hours off of their weekly pay.”

Hurd said they are looking at creative approaches to keep the classrooms open for students in the “we build” programs. One possibility is closing other less popular classes to make room for more “we build” classes.

Hurd is hopeful that the process will “work itself out” but said the cutbacks are a “definite interruption.”

Still, the first group of students will graduate from “We Build Green” on Saturday and move on to jobs with the district and other independent solar contractors.

“The new group of ‘We Build Green’ students started yesterday and the class is packed,” Hurd said.

Hurd has been working closely with partners in the solar industry to gain as much support as possible for the program during these tough economic times.

“We just received a donation of new modules and racking hardware from Solar Dock of $20,000,” Hurd said. “It’s like Christmas in April.  So, I think there is room for hope.”

Britt said architectural and engineering preparations are well under way for the eight sites already approved by the Board of Education.  Installation will begin as soon as the Division of State Architect approves the plans.

The Department of Sustainability has also finalized surveys for another 100 sites, meaning even more job opportunities for the hundreds of new “We Build Green” graduates.