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Tehiyah's Solar Project Means Big Reduction in Carbon Footprint

Sparked by student interest, Tehiyah Day School developed a collaboration and financing model for a successful solar installation that sharply reduces greenhouse-gas emissions and saves thousands of dollars a year in electricity costs.

Tehiyah Day School is excited and proud that during the last school year it went solar. This important action was a big part of the school’s mission to go green, reducing both the school’s use of nonrenewable resources and its carbon footprint.

This wonderful addition to the school might not have happened without our students’ interest in, and enthusiasm for, solar power. One of our seventh grade classes was the initial impetus behind the school going solar, but the project seemed daunting. Then a much younger student came home from a third-grade lesson about alternative energy and told her parents that they should add solar power to their home. Inspired by their daughter’s interest, her parents located Bay Area-based contractor SolarCity, and then extended the discussion from solar panels at their home to solar power at Tehiyah Day School.

Thus began a fortuitous collaboration between Tehiyah Day School and SolarCity, resulting in a Power Purchase Agreement than enabled the School to go solar without any up-front cost by leasing all of the equipment. This brilliant plan is truly a win-win for the school and the environment. The cost of the solar system was partially subsidized by the California Solar Initiative (CSI), which is in place to encourage non-profits, businesses and homeowners to go solar. Additionally, when the solar system generates more electricity than the school uses, PG&E buys the excess energy.

As a great side effect of the school’s strong commitment to going green, it is also saving green. Tehiyah’s large solar array produces enough electricity to offset 100 percent of the school’s electricity needs, and the school estimates that the solar electricity generated by the 55-kW system saves $4,000 per year in electricity costs.

Tehiyah is proud to report that a recent energy audit of the school, completed by Carbon Lighthouse (a company owned by Tehiyah alumni), shows that the school’s carbon footprint is now quite low for a school its size. The school facility’s total carbon footprint was calculated to be only 12,500 pounds per year; a typical school about Tehiyah's size has a carbon footprint of approximately 100,000 pounds per year.

The remainder of the school’s carbon footprint is largely the result of the bus trips and flights students and faculty take each year as part of the many amazing field trips that are part of Tehiyah’s rich curriculum. This year, these annual trips include a fourth-grade trip to the California Gold Country, a sixth-grade trip to Los Angeles, a seventh-grade trip to the Ashland Shakespeare Festival in Oregon and eighth-grade trips to both Washington, DC, and Israel.

For more information about Tehiyah Day School, go to www.tehiyah.org or email Donna Sidel at dsidel@tehiyah.org. For information about SolarCity, go to www.solarcity.com. For information about Carbonlighthouse, go to www.carbonlighthouse.com.

Donna Sidel is a long-time El Cerrito resident and Director of Communications at Tehiyah Day School.

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