News

Public debates Paly solar panels

Some residents say they will block the view, others support environmental benefits

A plan to add solar panels to the parking lot in front of Palo Alto High School has prompted some residents -- concerned that the structures could obscure the school's historic facade -- to ask the district to halt the project.

But others think the protests are much ado about nothing.

Four solar arrays would be mounted on steel pillars along El Camino Real behind the row of trees closest to the street. The structures would allow cars to park underneath, according to Palo Alto Unified School District documents.

The Board of Education gave the project the green light in November for an installation contract with Renewable Energy Corporation Solar for solar installations at six schools: JLS and Terman middle schools; Nixon, Escondido and Ohlone elementary schools; and Paly. The schools were recommended through a $75,000 feasibility study the board commissioned in spring 2016 through energy consultant ARC Alternatives Inc. The consultant urged the board to take advantage of the city of Palo Alto's net-energy metering program, in which the district would be able to sell the energy from the panels to the city. The panels at all six schools could save the district a net benefit in savings of $1.1 million over the 25-year useful life of the system, after costs, according to a district solar feasibility study. At Paly, the panels would generate 483.5 kilowatts.

The panels are scheduled for installation during the summer. But some residents are saying not so fast.

During Tuesday's board meeting, Stewart Berman, a Paly facilities steering committee member, said he called an emergency meeting last week regarding the photovoltaic project.

"None of us had ever heard of (this project) before. We're concerned about that because we think there are a number of issues with that project. For one, we think it has really bad aesthetics. I think it has possibly bad economics.

"In spite of some of the parent attempts to create community outreach for the project, none of the community-outreach meetings were attended. I think the awareness among the community for this project is really virtually nil. We as a committee think that once people find out the nature of the project they're going to be quite upset with it," he said.

The steering committee supports a photovoltaic project at the school.

"We just need some time to do it. We know some approvals have already been made and the project is hurtling to implementation at this point, so we're just asking to pause the project long enough so we can really come up with a really good project working with the people who are already working to implement this project," he said.

Rachel Kellerman, the high school's librarian, also urged the board to pause the Paly portion of the solar project.

"These large industrial carports — 15 to 18 feet tall — should not be placed in front of our 100-year-old Tower building and obscure the view of (Haymarket Theater and the Media Arts Center)," she said.

She called for an extensive review of the project by the school's administrators, teachers, student leaders, alumni, the local preservation community and anyone else who has a "vested interest," she said.

In letters to the editor, Paly alumni also voiced their disapproval of the process and the potential impact visually.

"As Palo Alto grows and change, historical facades such as the Campanile and front office become even more essential to safeguard. A city without its aesthetic history and character rapidly becomes a soulless one," Keith Paugh wrote.

Edith Miller, a former student, 20-year Paly staff member and a founding chair of Alumni and Friends of Palo Alto High School, said she was also distressed by the plans.

"Surely funding is available to put it on the rooftops or make the panels serve also as shade in the parking lots. There is plenty of space back by the corporate yard or at 25 Churchill (Ave.)," she wrote. "The Tower Building, the arches, the Haymarket theater and the new Performing Arts Center is a complex of which all of Palo Alto should be proud. It cannot be hidden by solar panels."

But Robert Lancefield, a parent of Paly graduates, said by phone on Wednesday that he thinks the panels are a great idea and an economic boon.

"The view from El Camino Real is not all that great. It's a utilitarian area. If someone wants to see the tower, they can do so from the Embarcadero side," he said.

Lancefield, who was on the Foothill-DeAnza Citizens' Bond Oversight Committee, said photovoltaic panels were installed at both campuses. Although the panels are at lower elevation than at Paly and might have less of an impact visually, they have not been a problem at either campus, he said.

In addition, the panels are a smart investment, he said. Even his wife's hometown, Amity, Oregon, population 1,667, added solar panels in its corporation yard and reaps more than $8,000 a year for programs, he said.

As for aesthetics: "We shouldn't try to win the argument based on aesthetics," he said. "Given climate warming and global change, all of us have to make changes. I think this is one of the more modest ones."

Deborah Goldeen, a Paly alum, also supported the installation in a letter to the editor.

"When I'm driving down El Camino, I'm paying attention to the traffic, not the view. In the minds of students, and probably most of the parents, the El Camino side of Paly hardly exists," said Goldeen, whose sons also graduated from the school.

"I'm sure there are many practical reasons that particular location was chosen. The fact that it is being 'rushed through' is most likely due to the fact that the school board has a lot on their plate and never would have believed anyone would object," she wrote.

Board President Ken Dauber said district staff "have very significant progress working with community members to address the issues around placement of the solar panels at Paly, including not having panels in front of the Tower Building. Speaking personally, I don't expect this issue to come to the board."

District staff did not provide requested information by press time.

Education Reporter Elena Kadvany contributed to this story.

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Comments

18 people like this
Posted by Recent Paly Alumna
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 29, 2018 at 11:32 am

Delaying or scrapping the plans to install solar panels in the El Camino parking lot as to not obstruct the view of the historic buildings is not only a poor economic and environmental decision, but also will take away a valuable learning opportunity for students. Imagine the experiments, projects and demonstrations students could do in physics and environmental science classes, for example. Plus, as the article states, the Tower Building and Haymarket Theater — not to mention the beautiful new Performing Arts Center will be on full display for people entering through the school’s *main* entrance on Embarcadero. It’s time for Paly and the district to take responsible steps forward for their budget and environment. Arguing against the solar panels because of they don’t fit perfectly into the school’s aesthetic is shallow and absurd.


3 people like this
Posted by Apollo
a resident of Crescent Park
on Mar 29, 2018 at 11:46 am

Has anyone considered how expensive and delicate solar panels are and how easy they would be to vandalize or destroy by one or two delinquents mad at the school or the city? Is this installation protected or secured in any way?


23 people like this
Posted by Paly parent
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Mar 29, 2018 at 12:02 pm

I think it's a fantastic idea to install solar in the parking lot. Over the years, I have visited various other high schools in the SCVAL to watch sporting events. I have to say that the parking lots with solar panels are REALLY nice to park under. Cars don't get so hot, the parking lot itself is SO much cooler, the panels even provide some refuge on rainy days, AND they generate a crazy amount of electricity to offset usage. What's not to like? As for aesthetics, I don't find them to be eyesores and I don't know many people who actually pause at that intersection to gaze at the school views.


10 people like this
Posted by Anonymous
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 29, 2018 at 12:04 pm

This is the same view that used to be home to a large flea market, correct? PAUSD is just about the only school district which hasn't install solar PVs over its parking lots. But why?


16 people like this
Posted by drill baby drill
a resident of Downtown North
on Mar 29, 2018 at 12:32 pm

Who wants to bet that the anti-solar people all own stock in coal mining and oil drilling companies?


20 people like this
Posted by OPar
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Mar 29, 2018 at 12:58 pm

There are already trees, an ugly parking lot and El Camino in a view of the historic facade. Solar panels won't detract from what's already an unattractive foreground.

Install the panels.


27 people like this
Posted by sol
a resident of St. Claire Gardens
on Mar 29, 2018 at 1:01 pm

"Has anyone considered how expensive and delicate solar panels are and how easy they would be to vandalize or destroy by one or two delinquents mad at the school or the city?"

Probably over half the Bay Area high schools I've visited in the the last couple years have panels. So, yeah, I suspect some has "considered" all the issues.


3 people like this
Posted by Al
a resident of Palo Alto Hills
on Mar 29, 2018 at 1:43 pm

Its 2018. Tesla makes a solor roof that looks like the roof tiles already in place. Web Link Tuscan.


15 people like this
Posted by Chip
a resident of Professorville
on Mar 29, 2018 at 1:52 pm

The panels should be installed. Spending more money & wasting time soliciting opinions is frivolous. The parking lot isn't beautiful. We've learned about conservation of resources & importance of lessening dependency on fossil fuels, this is a valuable step. No one needs an unobstructed view of the tower while driving on El Camino. Most people are watching the traffic instead, I hope. Los Altos High School parking lot is already nicely shaded with solar panels.
Move forward.


18 people like this
Posted by David
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Mar 29, 2018 at 2:30 pm

All of the hand-wringing doesn't impress me. Put up the solar panels.


12 people like this
Posted by Stu Berman
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Mar 29, 2018 at 4:45 pm

I don't yet have all of the facts on this project, but it may interest readers of this article to learn the following:

• Support for Solar:
The Paly Facilities Steering Committee supports Paly's use of solar panels for generating electricity. In fact it has long been the intention of all the groups involved in planning Paly facilities to add solar panels to the campus in an appropriate manner. They will be on the roof of the upcoming science building addition roof. And, they are one projected use of the upcoming planned school district bond.

• Economics:
Paly's utilities bill (for all utilities) is on average around $50,000/month or $600,000/year. The benefit to Paly of the proposed solar carports is around $1,100/month or $13,000/year. That is 2% of Paly's utilities budget. This is the benefit to Paly and the PAUSD after the solar company takes its cut for building and managing the project.

• Control:
The company that will build the solar carports will control their use for 25 years. I haven't seen the contract, but Paly seems to be giving up a great deal of control over its property for $1,100 per month.

And, on a personal note:
• Aesthetics: Some in this community would have liked our kids to get their education in schools that motivate both through their teachers and through their physical surroundings. From many of the comments to this article I can only infer that others would be happy if the campus were composed of nothing but portables.


20 people like this
Posted by R Kellerman
a resident of Professorville
on Mar 29, 2018 at 7:31 pm

The Paly Facilities committee worked on a landscape plan that includes adding trees to the part of the parking lot where the solar panels will go. Panels in the Churchill parking lot will require the removal of trees. Nothing grows underneath these structures. Paly needs trees and solar. Solar panels will most likely be added to the rooftop of a building that is being built as part of the existing bond and PAUSD plans to put solar projects at every campus on the next bond. There will be solar at Paly. No one is anti-solar. We just want to have a green campus for our students and staff, and we want our community to be proud of our high school by not obstructing an iconic building in Palo Alto. We are trying to be good stewards for a campus that has existed in this spot of 100 years. This solar project was not well publicized as very few people attended the outreach meeting in February. In fact even Paly parents received no direct notification from the District. As a staff member active with facilities projects on campus I had no idea this was going on until last week. There was no outreach to any of the fine Palo Alto historical associations either. I want solar at Paly but I want it to be done in a way that doesn't conflict with building a green environment for our students. Solar will not detract from our historic buildings when it is placed on rooftops.


Like this comment
Posted by Stu Berman
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Mar 29, 2018 at 10:06 pm

Clarification: I did not call the emergency meeting. I was asked to attend it.


15 people like this
Posted by Gus L.
a resident of Barron Park
on Mar 30, 2018 at 7:51 am

NO to Solar Panel in front of the school.
It is not necessary.
If they wanted Solar panels they should have added them to the roof on the new Gym and the new Theater, NOT on El Camino causing an eyesore.


1 person likes this
Posted by Power to the People
a resident of Barron Park
on Mar 30, 2018 at 9:20 am

Deciding whether or not to establish City owner Solar Panel parks in Palo Alto is the easy part. The hard part is to decide who we are going to name the Parks after. I hope it will not be some eugenicist or person with the same last name as one of the numerous villains of the many nationalities that make up our diverse population.

Also, regarding vandalism by delinquents and hooligans - we could hire "Array Guards" just like we successfully hired train crossing guards along the at grade train crossings in town.


9 people like this
Posted by An Engineer
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Mar 30, 2018 at 12:39 pm

"Delaying or scrapping the plans to install solar panels ... is not only a poor economic and environmental decision, but also will take away a valuable learning opportunity for students. Imagine the experiments, projects and demonstrations students could do in physics and environmental science classes, for example."

Experiments like electrocution, perhaps. You can learn much, much more from a dozen PV cells in a controlled experimental setting. Never mess with a functioning solar installation.

BTW, I side with the antis. PV installations are ugly. Nix the ego and put the contraption out of sight.


4 people like this
Posted by third gen Paly grad
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 30, 2018 at 4:58 pm

OK so it may be a good idea in theory..but. Is it too much to ask that a map of the layout of these structures be provided?I have read here that the old Elms in the Churchill parking would be cut down-or some them, again no map.

Like the high speed rail sold to the public at one price,and in one time frame,and now has morphed into a budget swallowing beast, that will be ready in some very far off future, this project should not be fast tracked. Some find the lengthy process of debating matters as if the citizens mattered cumbersome and irritating but that is what democracy looks like-or what we have left of it. We should appreciate it-in the few venues where it still exists, or has any bearing at all.

The project could serve the flea market, by providing covered spaces, for instance, if placed in the right locations. As a general concept it makes sense, but cutting down tress to do it and or not fully providing the map of the project is a bad idea.Full disclosure-yes,a slow and open process -yes.

Solar Good.Public process good. Cutting down trees to do it, with a lack of clarity on what it look like and where it will go. Hell No.


1 person likes this
Posted by JhAmXK
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Mar 30, 2018 at 5:45 pm

Can someone post a picture of where these panels are going to go. I haven’t heard anything meantioned about the Churchill Ave panels.


3 people like this
Posted by CrescentParkAnon.
a resident of Crescent Park
on Mar 31, 2018 at 8:15 am

>>> PV installations are ugly.

Have you looked at the PALY campus lately? Does anyone care about ugly?

Having been in the High School class that straddled the move from the "old buildings"
where there were banks of windows in the classrooms that actually opened, letting in
the occasional bird or bee, to the "new buildings" with no windows ( except in the central
arts building and no real fresh air, the old buildings were actually a lot nicer. Some of the
older buildings even had atriums in them with iron gates and gardens.

Clearly the human factors and aesthetics were pushed aside and the modern day
industrial prison design embraced in both PALY and Gunn. But I guess solar panels
are nicer looking than an oil refinery.


7 people like this
Posted by Robert Moore
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Mar 31, 2018 at 8:36 am

OK This subject is bound to be controversial. I just Google Mapped the Paly block to see what's changed over the years. There seems to be several acres of flat roofs in place both on the PA Campus and the District Headquarters.

Wouldn't these roofs be and excellent place to collect the Sun's energy, including tracking systems for optimization? Potentially there would be little outrage from concerned parties, and, on the roof there would be little opportunity for Vandalism.


1 person likes this
Posted by Rob Moore
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Mar 31, 2018 at 8:43 am

Google Mapped the Paly Block

There are several flat roofs at Paly and the adjacent School System Headquarters.

UP above the maddening crowd up there.
Not likely to be vandalized.
Opportunity to use Solar Tracking Systems for higher efficiencies.

I'm sute you would have thought of this, but your probably are not from 'Old Paly"!

HAHA and enjoy the spring.



5 people like this
Posted by 5th Generation
a resident of Mayfield
on Mar 31, 2018 at 1:20 pm

There's a large ugly parking lot at Cubberley, why not put them there instead?


2 people like this
Posted by Marc
a resident of Midtown
on Apr 1, 2018 at 2:29 pm

Regardless of the visual aesthetics or the environmental concerns, does this statement:

"...The panels at all six schools could save the district a net benefit in savings of $1.1 million over the 25-year useful life of the system, after costs, according to a district solar feasibility study. .."

Really justify the project? Does the entire system really have a 25 year life? Does the "after costs" include ALL maintenance? I don't know any commercial business that would do this with such a LOW rate of return.

Does it take into account a lowering of the electric costs? Can we hold the organization that did the study accountable if we do not actually save this amount of money?

/marc



5 people like this
Posted by Curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Apr 1, 2018 at 4:53 pm

"Wouldn't these [existing flat] roofs be and excellent place to collect the Sun's energy...?"

Very likely, but nobody would see them there. The prime incentive seems to be not the energy captured, but the ego boost from showing off the panels.


Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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