The installation of a solar array at Cabrillo High School is estimated to be complete at the end of summer, giving way to a second green project at Buena Vista Elementary in the fall, according to school officials. 

"The array at Cabrillo is the first of its kind in the district," said Doug Sorum, assistant superintendent of Business Services at Lompoc Unified School District.

The overall clean energy project that includes other energy-saving efforts is projected to save the Lompoc Unified School District $570,000 in annual utility costs once complete.

"We flip the switch and one to two hours later, we flip the switch back on and we're producing solar energy," said Sorum, describing the day Cabrillo will "go live" with capturing sunlight and converting it into clean energy for campus consumption. "We're scheduled for a Saturday, but we don't have a specific date yet."

The construction project, which is part of a larger net zero effort that will cost the district $14 million, broke ground at Cabrillo in September and will likely begin producing 80% of the campus usage once students return to the classroom this fall, Sorum said. 

The $14 million in improvement funds also will pay for asphalt replacement at district locations, LED lighting at all school campuses and various water-wise efforts. 

Sorum explained that when the school district's second attempt to pass Measure E — a $79 million school improvement bond — failed in 2018, the Board of Education and Superintendent Trevor McDonald asked school officials to seek out other options for addressing facility needs.

In 2019, the board authorized ABM Building Solutions LLC to conduct a districtwide energy consumption assessment. It was discovered that among other energy-saving efforts, construction of a carport structure outfitted with a solar array would save the district money down the road, ultimately leading to a savings in the general fund.

Construction for the bundled energy project is being funded by a low-interest, 20-year loan to be paid back through eventual savings, Sorum said. 

The carport feature located on Cabrillo's campus parking lot supports a solar array made up of 1,512 solar panels, which together produce 604 kilowatts of power. The project managed by MBL Energy Solutions is 95% complete, Sorum said.

In addition to reducing greenhouse gases and utility costs, the carport structure provides much-needed shade for students, said Sorum, noting that infrastructure for electric vehicle charging stations is built into the structure and is ready for activation when needed.

Once Cabrillo's array is complete, installation of a smaller ground-mount array in the back fields at Buena Vista Elementary will begin in the fall, Sorum said.

Although the district has no other plans to build solar arrays at other campuses, Sorum is holding on to a greener future for Lompoc.

"We hope there is an opportunity to [build more] sometime in the future," he said.

Lisa André covers lifestyles and local news for Santa Ynez Valley News and Lompoc Record. 

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