GUSD Tackles Solar Panel Concerns

Residents attend meetings at two local schools to voice their opinion of solar project.

Photo by Leonard COUTIN GUSD and residents are in debate about the locations of solar panels, like those being installed on the Monte Vista Elementary School campus (above).
Photo by Leonard COUTIN
GUSD and residents are in debate about the locations of solar panels, like those being installed on the Monte Vista Elementary School campus (above).

By Ted AYALA and Mary O’KEEFE

Residents in La Crescenta and Montrose have been rallying to arms the past month, joining together against the Glendale Unified School District (GUSD) in outcry over the district’s plan to install solar panels at seven area campuses by the start of the 2012-13 school year.

The solar panels, which would be large freestanding structures reaching heights of 40 to 50 feet, provoked the ire of residents near the schools included in the projected plan. Stoking further controversy was the process by which GUSD moved the project along, keeping it an internal matter. Though notices were said to have been placed in area newspapers announcing the project, no direct communication was made to homeowners, nor were any forums discussing the matter made open to the public.

Since news first broke of the solar panel project, residents have quickly mounted their opposition to the plan. GUSD has apologized for not opening up the project to public discussion, attempting to make amends and reach a compromise with residents in the affected areas.

Monte Vista Elementary School held an open meeting – the second of a series – on the matter Tuesday. Representatives of the GUSD were on hand to hear residents. They also proposed methods of mitigating the effects of the solar panels.

It was a tense meeting that was held in Monte Vista Elementary School. Over 30 residents packed the school’s small library.

On hand were Steven Frasher and Eva Rae Lueck, GUSD’s chief information officer and chief business/financial officer, respectively.

Battle lines were distinctly drawn. Residents demanded that either the district remove the panels or place them in a different location; the district was set on installing the panels, but camouflaging them with trees.

“You guys made a mistake and I can’t help your poor planning,” spoke up one angry resident. “But now we’re involved. And I’m sorry. My kid went to [Monte Vista]. I served on the PTA. But you guys screwed up.”

Another resident voiced her worries over particulate matter and radiation the solar panels may give off. Though the district answered by telling her that the panels do not give off particulates and that the amount of radiation from the panels would be less than the amount shed by household products, residents were not pleased.

“I want an independent environmental survey done, not one by the district or by the company this project is contracted to,” she said. “We need to know the facts about this project and we have yet to receive any answer about this.”

But the issue on most residents’ minds was the effect the panels would have on the property values of surrounding homes.

The district acknowledged that property values may suffer with the installation of the panels, something that outraged residents already fuming for feeling left out of the district’s decision-making process. GUSD estimates that the drop in property values to surrounding homes would be in the area of $140,000 collectively.

“What we considered is that there is a ripple effect,” said Herb Poppe. “Because when these homes’ values drop, the value of the homes around them will be depressed.”

Though GUSD stated that it would attempt to mitigate the effects of the solar panels by planting trees around them, residents countered that the upkeep of the trees would offset any savings generated by the project.

Nevertheless, GUSD stated that it was not interested in cancelling the project, but in helping to blunt the effect of the panels.

The meeting at Crescenta Valley High School that was held on Wednesday was considerably calmer than the Monte Vista Elementary meeting the night prior. Only five people met with district officials in the CVHS library.

The meeting was held at 5 p.m., admittedly difficult for working residents to attend. The district blanketed the nearby neighborhood with flyers and an email notice was sent to parents on Monday. Deputy Superintendent John Garcia admitted the timing of the meeting would have been better if it had been later, to accommodate working parents. He also told one of the parents that attended the CVHS meeting that future meetings would be publicized by flyers, email notification and through the media.

The solar panels at CVHS are far less obstructive then those at Monte Vista. The panels at the high school will be constructed in two parking lots; the first is the teachers’ parking lot just west of the main building at the corner of Ramsdell and Prospect avenues. The second is near the track and field. The panels will act as shade for the parking lot.

“These structures are intended to generate power and provide shade,” said Alan Reising, district’s director of faculty and support operations.

Garcia, on behalf of the school district, took full responsibility for the way the solar panel construction project was communicated to the CV community.

Lueck, who also attended the CVHS meeting, said that although the district had talked about the project at the school board meetings and there had been stories in newspapers, it was not communicated as to exactly where the panels would be placed.

District officials said they were looking at the project from a school point of view.

“When you stand where the panels will be placed at Monte Vista, you don’t see the houses,” Lueck said.

“We didn’t look at the other side of the fence,” Garcia said.

Lueck added because the homes were down a slope, officials did not think to look from a neighbor’s point of view. But after the Monte Vista meeting, the district is determined to speak to the neighbors, hold more meetings and find a solution.

The positive side of solar energy was discussed at the CVHS meeting as well.

“The savings are estimated to be $97,000 a year [at Crescenta Valley High School], that is including $73,000 from Southern California Edison for the next five years,” Lueck said. “And these panels are only supplying 17% of CVHS power.”

SCE offers incentives for solar power that will be in affect for CVHS for the next five years.

Reising said that the savings in the seven locations where solar panels are being installed are estimated to be $543,000 per year. The savings from the solar panels will be placed back into the general fund. With that added income the district hopes to be able to supplement some of the upcoming budgetary shortfalls.

When asked by a parent why the district didn’t place more panels at the school, Reising answered, “We didn’t have room. There is no more room unless we take away some of the areas used by students.”

The solar panels could not be placed on the rooftops of the school without extensive construction.

A question was asked about the structure’s integrity concerning the winds that often blow through Crescenta Valley.

“The structures are built to withstand 80 MPH winds,” Reising said.

There have been times when CV is victim to stronger winds, however Reising said this is the standard required by the state.

“The chances of these panels coming off is extremely unlikely,” Reising said.

There were still concerns by parents and residents about the notification of the exact ramifications of the project and the method of advertising the meetings.

One parent voiced her concern over the fact that the meetings are being held after the project has started, leaving little if any chance for residents to make any real change.

“We were wrong,” Garcia said of the district’s communication. “We own it … But our goal is to be good neighbors.”

The district plans to have meetings with Mountain Avenue Elementary parents and nearby residents who have voiced a concern about their solar panels. Other meetings may be scheduled as needed.

  • Lyn

    These solar facilies are being built on school properties throughout California and Nevada. I’ve seen them in upscale neighborhoods in Contra Costa County and, more recently, Carson City, Nevada. How anyone can be offended by these structures is beyond me. Not only do they generate clean energy for our schools, but they are quiet, attractive to look at, and provide educational opportunities for our children. I predict that most, if not all, parking lots in SoCal will have these soon, and that smart property owners will charge a fee to those wanting to park in the shade. I’m much more offended by large HVAC units running 24-hours a day from coal buring power plants to keep buildings cool in desert climates.