Jan. 25, 2021

Solar PanelsThe Hartnell Community College District has received a 2020 Excellence in Energy and Sustainability Award from the California Community Colleges Board of Governors for solar power generation and other energy-reducing steps expected to save $26 million over their lifetime.

The projected 4.7-million-kilowatt hour reduction in electricity use offsets more than 3,300 metric tons of carbon dioxide – equivalent to removing 714 cars from the road each year.

Hartnell College was among five of the state’s 73 college districts recognized on Jan. 19 for actions by their own governing boards to drastically reduce their carbon footprint and save taxpayer dollars through lower utility bills or for leadership and teaching on climate and sustainability.

“California’s community colleges have long been leaders in putting into practice the lessons and skills they teach their students, and matters relating to sustainability are no exception,” said Board of Governors President Pamela Haynes. “On behalf of the Board of Governors, I want to thank this year’s recipients for their dedication and exemplary efforts.”

Hartnell was selected within the small-college category for Innovative Project award, which recognizes the use and implementation of innovative technologies and progressive practices. The award also noted how Hartnell has incorporated its energy-saving projects into existing career training programs and the college’s STEM curriculum. Computer kiosks at the Alisal Campus and in the Lewallen STEM Center on the Main Campus display real-time solar power generation.

“We are extremely proud of this recognition and affirmation from the California Community Colleges system,” said Hartnell Governing Board President Erica Padilla-Chavez. “It’s a win-win-win because we are reducing our climate impact, being a careful steward of taxpayer dollars and providing a highly relevant learning opportunity for students.”

The 2.6 megawatts of solar photovoltaic generating capacity installed on Hartnell’s Alisal and Main campuses since 2013 includes a new 1.3-megawatt solar canopy system on top of the Hartnell Parking Structure, which went online in July.

New education centers add solar capacity

Additional solar power systems will go online this year this year and next at Hartnell’s three education centers. Rooftop solar panels are expected to meet half of the electricity needs of the new Soledad Education Center, scheduled for completion this winter, and the Castroville Education Center, scheduled to open in spring 2022. New panels at the King City Education Center are expected to meet all the electricity needs of an expansion that will double the building’s size when finished this winter.

Both Joseph Reyes, director of facilities, planning and construction, and former Superintendent/President Dr. Willard Lewallen, who retired in 2019, were individually recognized by Lizette Navarette, vice chancellor of college finance and facilities planning, as she introduced the awards during the Board of Governors meeting.

Reyes credited Dr. Lewallen for sparking the focus on energy savings after his appointment in 2012, which in turn was supported through the decisions of the district’s Governing Board.

“We were at the Alisal Campus, and he asked, ‘Why isn’t there solar here?’ and that’s what started us down that road,” Reyes recalled. “We’ve taken advantage of every opportunity that’s been available to us to incorporate some type of energy efficiency.”

In Hartnell’s award application, Dr. Lewallen underscored the program’s educational value: “With many of our students looking to pursue careers in the emerging green economy, this project also serves as an extraordinary learning opportunity to perform project-based research."

Award also recognized efficiencies

The following items were noted in Hartnell’s application for the Board of Governors award, submitted in November:

  • Alisal Campus: 543 kW of solar photovoltaics on parking shade structures
  • Main Campus: 2.04 MW of solar canopy, rooftop and ground-mount solar photovoltaics.
  • LED lighting
  • HVAC retrofit
  • Wireless thermostat system
  • Boiler upgrades
  • Energy management system
  • 500 kW / 1000 kWh energy storage capacity with smart software

To finance installation of approximately $3 million worth of solar power, Hartnell took out a zero percent loan from the California Energy Commission – saving more than $1 million in interest. For the new project atop the parking structure, the college completed a power purchase agreement that allows it to pay a fixed rate for power produced by the solar array over the long term, leading to save on project installation costs and the fluctuating price of electricity.

Interim Superintendent/President Dr. Raúl Rodríguez noted that savings from energy efficiency programs go back into Hartnell’s general fund account, allowing the money to be redirected toward student programs and services.

“We all benefit from our reduced carbon footprint, and our students continue to benefit by the opportunity to apply these savings to enhance student learning,” Dr. Rodríguez said.

Hartnell previously received an honorable mention through the Board of Governors Excellence in Energy and Sustainability Awards in 2016. The college was recognized for an exterior and area lighting retrofit at multiple locations on the Main Campus, replacing old fluorescent, metal halide and mercury vapor lighting fixtures with more efficient LED fixtures, which reduced annual electricity use by at least 132,0000 kWh, saving $16,000 a year.

The statewide awards were established in 2012 to recognize and promote the ongoing efforts of community colleges to achieve environmental sustainability. The other four awards for 2021 went to Contra Costa Community College District (Best Overall Innovative Project – Large District); Citrus Community College District (Best Overall Innovative Project – Medium District); Los Angeles Community College District (Excellence in Energy and Sustainability – Faculty/Student Initiative Award); and Rancho Santiago Community College istrict (Excellence in Energy and Sustainability – Sustainability Champion).