Solar PV’s give Los Medanos College bright future for green energy – Experience

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The future of renewable energy at Los Medanos College appears bright, as a districtwide project seeks to step up sustainability efforts in the coming decade. One of the most well-known clean energy sources is the photovoltaic panel (PV), which converts thermal energy into electricity.

The first solar PVs installed at LMC were fully operational in 2009. Construction was a massive endeavor with costs on the LMC panels reaching approximately $10.5 million, with incentives reaching approximately $3.6 million, and a net cost of $6.9 million. This was part of a sizable energy service company (ESCO) contract signed back in 2006, with the goal being energy efficiency and saving money on utilities.

However, the district’s efforts to promote both a healthier campus and a healthier planet extend beyond solar PVs. Energy and Sustainability Manager Tracy Marcial provides insight into the district’s major goals for their upcoming sustainability projects.

“I was tasked with setting districtwide goals to help us make progress toward reducing our impact toward climate issues, which are also issues that impact our communities,” said Marcial. 

“We have nine sustainability goals to achieve by 2035 that were adopted by our governing board in November 2022, and are in alignment with the Board of Governor’s State Chancellor’s Office goals.”

According to the 2023 4CD Sustainability Report, the nine sustainability goals are reduced greenhouse gas emissions, increased usage of renewable energy, green and energy-efficient buildings, electric transportation, waste reduction, procurement of environmentally friendly products, clean water, expanded curriculum, and sustainable food.

The solar PVs at LMC – as well as the ones at Diablo Valley College and Contra Costa College – are only able to curb total electricity consumption by a small amount. This would account for the implementation of a variety of sustainability measures to cover all nine goals. This does not mean the panels are ineffective by themselves, however.

Marcial shared in a previous interview that during the first full year of operation, the panels saved about $310,000 in electric costs. These savings increase annually alongside electricity rates.

Further supporting this idea, the 2023 sustainability report revealed that utility costs from 2013 to 2021 have increased due to expansions on 4CD campuses – but utility usage has remained mostly the same. This can be attributed to sustainability efforts reducing utility usage per square foot.

To ensure solar PVs are running smoothly, they are carefully monitored and maintained.

“We hire a third party to monitor our PV systems, so we can keep track of how much energy we are generating and make sure they are remaining operational and meeting performance expectations,” Marcial said. “Most repairs/maintenance have required relatively minor parts and pieces to keep the system operational.”

Marcial also discussed some ways students can stay informed about sustainable energy. Each campus has its own Sustainability Committee that welcomes students to join its monthly meetings. 

There is also a Districtwide Sustainability Committee that meets twice a year. The goal is to promote sustainable practices across multiple campuses through connection and learning from one another.

“Sustainability touches on many topics, not only STEM but many other areas as well. It can be incorporated into every curriculum topic – so look for ways to incorporate it into your education and curiosity,” said Marcial.

There are plans to continue incorporating additional sustainability measures on campus, too. 

“There are a lot of plans and ideas. But we need funding as well. The Facility Master Plan is a big piece of this, figuring out what’s needed to electrify our buildings and shift us away from using fossil fuel inside our buildings,” said Marcial. 

Currently, the solar panels on the Los Medanos College campus in Pittsburg are located in parking lots B and C. There are plans to install solar panels at LMC’s Brentwood Center as well. This will help contribute to the generation of green energy, saving money and helping to achieve a future that is cleaner and more sustained. 

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