We commend our local heroes going above and beyond and trailblazing clean energy and sustainability efforts. Each month we choose a business, organization or resident and share their Clean energy Hero journey.
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Monterey County's Santa Rita Union School District
January 2020 – The Santa Rita Union School District (SRUSD), serving an estimated 3,405 students from Preschool through Eighth grade in the Salinas Valley, is home to the nation’s first carbon-free microgrid. Their energy-resilient system designed to better support their students’ health and education goes beyond the school yard – all six campuses fitted with solar plus battery storage make SRUSD the nation’s first Powered Emergency Response Center (PERC).
“California school districts face extremely challenging budgeting situations and any reduction in operational expenses can directly translate into money for teachers, books, or supplies,” commented SRUSD’s superintendent, Dr. Shelly Morr, in a recent Businesswire press release.
“It’s also important for our community that schools aren’t impacted by events such as power outages as this disrupts not only the school day, but parents having to leave work early to scramble to make other arrangements for their children. We’re excited to see these clean energy systems implemented on our school campuses.”
The district-wide renewable project went live in May of 2018 with EcoMotion’s vision and funding made possible through Generate Capital. Photovoltaic car ports and rooftop solar provide SRUSD with 1 megawatt of clean energy, plus ample shade for cars and student lunch shelters. To island the district from the grid entirely, solar is backed with 1.1 megawatt hours of backup battery storage. Each campus can operate for 7 hours with just one sun-harvested charge, acting as a community PERC for decades to come while eliminating extraordinary masses of greenhouse gas emissions.
Shortly after their microgrid went live, SRUSD partnered with Clear Blue Energy Corp. to replace all indoor and outdoor fluorescent light fixtures with bright LED alternatives through Proposition 39, California’s Clean Energy Jobs Act. Smart thermostats were incorporated, making HVAC classroom controls programmable to school schedules, sending alerts if there are any discrepancies to set parameters.
As the first PERC and 100% carbon-free school district, it’s no surprise that SRUSD was the nation’s first to adopt an all-electric school bus. The eLion, funded by a Monterey Bay Air Resources District (MBARD) grant, can go 100 miles per charge and seats up to 64 passengers. This ambitious technology will save the district over $10,000 in annual transportation costs in addition to toxic diesel emissions, improving local air quality and student health.
“We were already doing some environmental things anyway and this just dovetailed with it as well as looking at the next generation of science standards,” said Morr in the Californian’s First Electric School Bus Arrives in Monterey County. “Our robotics, engineering labs, science garden, it just all came together at the same time. It made sense.”
A fully resilient campus inclusive of a fossil fuel free microgrid, Level 2 EV charging stations, PERC, smart thermostats and energy efficient lighting are what make Santa Rita Union School District our January Clean Energy Hero. By accomplishing what many view as the impossible, SRUSD proves that with time and in-depth research, we can all empower our communities and youth with sustainable energy solutions.
Meet Sara Steiner, San Benito County's 1st MBprime Adopter
December 2019 – Choosing 100% renewable electricity a decade, or even three years ago, wasn’t possible without the installation of solar. Even then, you had to do the groundwork to find an experienced solar contractor, fully invest in unfamiliar technology, then finally initiate installation. San Benito County’s Sara Steiner was one of the early adopters of renewable energy.
“I purchased solar in 2001 after Enron happened. I decided that this was the time we needed to transition,” said Steiner. “There were far and few contractors at that time since solar was still pretty new. It was a huge learning experience for me.”
Almost nineteen years later, Steiner continues to pave the way as a leader in sustainability. Her five-acre property in the beautiful Cienga Valley is home to an acre of herbs, all local to the area and grown organically. She enjoys making customized teas based on taste for friends and herself, with an array of herbs that work alongside her solar system to absorb carbon from the atmosphere further.
Steiner continued her sustainable journey by making the switch to renewable transportation. In addition to her Hollister home, Steiner drives an all-electric Chevy Bolt charged predominately from sunshine. When the sun isn’t out and her electricity needs depend on the grid, Steiner chooses to support renewable energy sourced solely from wind and solar through MBCP’s MBPrime .
As a pioneer of green technology, it’s no surprise that Sara Steiner was the first San Benito County resident to opt-up to MBPrime. Without any advertising, Steiner learned about this 100% renewable service offering by attending local city council meetings.
Steiner believes that sustainability and energy resiliency goes beyond purchase power. She serves on the board of the San Benito Agricultural Land Trust, a small non-profit that relies on community funding and grants to support the county’s extensive agricultural community and environment. Steiner also serves on the Board of Cienga Union School District and works with San Benito County’s Amateur Radio Association.
“If you want change, you have to think globally and act locally. It may feel like a small drop in the pond, but community action can really make a difference.”
We can agree that Sara’s efforts and passion for clean energy and her community, are what make her our December Clean Energy Hero . To learn more about MBPrime and how you can opt-up to our 100% renewable service offering, click here.
Sandbar Solar & Electric Proves Resiliency Has No Limits
November 2019 – A drive down Santa Cruz’s Mission Street normally consists of a steady stream of power lines and warehouses. But somewhere in between stands a vibrant blue building void of any connection to the power grid; no wires, cables, or meter in sight.
Sandbar Solar & Electric’s new headquarters is the first of it’s kind in Santa Cruz County. Their 11,500 square foot commercial building runs solely off of sunshine, battery storage, and on occasion, a backup generator. To power such a large space, Sandbar Solar & Electric developed and constructed an advanced microgrid system that incorporates 60KW of rooftop solar, three Avalon flow batteries supplying 30KW of electricity, two Ideal power inverters, an Ageto control system (the mind and body of the microgrid), and a 60KW natural gas backup generator.
Solar panels supply 95% of Sandbar Solar & Electric’s electricity needs. When the sun is out, their headquarters are powered entirely by solar which then feeds the batteries enough electricity to power the building throughout the night and majority of the next day.
Since adopting their new microgrid system in November of 2018, the solar and electric company has only needed to run their generator for 300 hours, or 13 days. This occurs when rain or heavy clouds are present, but when energy needs aren’t dire, their system allows them to turn off the generator with the push of a button. Sandbar Solar & Electric worked with Monterey Bay Unified Air Pollution Control District to adopt a Prime power generator that abides by California’s Clean Air Act, reducing emissions significantly compared to a conventional diesel generator.
According to Sandbar Solar & Electric’s Electrical & Solar Contractor, Cale Garamendi, “A true microgrid that provides resiliency incorporates a generator, but doesn’t depend on it entirely. If you only have a backup generator and you go to turn on a light that uses 100 watts of electricity, there’s massive amounts of fuel being burned and it’s inefficient. Solar combined with battery storage and a generator gives you that peace of mind. If there’s a seismic event, we can depend on solar and battery storage. If there’s a hiccup in firmware, software, or the system needs repairs, we can rely on the generator.”
You might expect a building sustained by a microgrid to be pretty dim. On the contrary, walking through the facility feels bright and eerily normal. A warehouse is fully lit. An upstairs office equipped with a full blown server room is filled with staff working away on their desktops. There’s an electric room, but no electric equipment.
Garamendi says, “We’re not cutting corners on what we do here as a result of having a building powered off a microgrid. The system allows us to be more mindful of our energy consumption because it’s finite.”
Annually, Sandbar Solar & Electric uses about 40,000KW of electricity. By disconnecting from the grid and creating their own resilient power supply, they’ve managed to save 28 metric tons of greenhouse gasses from being emitted into the atmosphere. This mindful approach and sustainable business practice are what make Sandbar Solar & Electric our November Clean Energy Hero.
San Benito Health Foundation Brings Energy Resiliency to its Critical Facility
October 2019 – Public Safety Power Shutoffs are upon us and affected healthcare facilities could face complications powering vital equipment and accessing digital medical records. Hollister’s San Benito Health Foundation has a plan to overcome these challenges and they are putting it into action.
What started as a trip abroad has now evolved into local energy resiliency for a critical community facility. Rosa Vivian Fernández, San Benito Health Foundation’s President and Chief Executive Officer of fourteen years, experienced the detriments of prolonged power outages firsthand when she visited Puerto Rico following Hurricane Maria. Community health centers lost power for weeks, even months, unable to provide treatment to patients who depend on dialysis, oxygen, or simply medications requiring refrigeration.
“I saw families devastated and without access to basic services and needs. I told myself I would never let that happen to the people who depend on SBHF. I also wanted to find a way for my organization to have a positive impact for our climate,” Fernández said in MBEP Member Spotlight: San Benito Foundation Invests in Preparedness, Sustainability.
SBHF, a nonprofit community healthcare organization, has provided an array of medical and dental services since 1975 to the San Benito County community, regardless of any patient’s ability to pay. This year, they’ve officially gone off the grid to become California’s first 100% carbon-neutral healthcare facility.
Fernandez’s vision became possible with assistance from Greenpower , a nonprofit empowering communities with planet-friendly energy. Their partnership resulted in a 120-panel solar array with backup battery storage as well as an eco-friendly bio-ethanol generator fueled by compost. Combined, the solar power, battery and generator work in harmony to create an island of local power sources and power storage known as a microgrid, allowing the facility to fully operate for up to 10 days without electricity from the grid. It eliminates the need for high stakes power triage decisions and is projected to save the foundation sixty thousand dollars annually.
Microgrids arm communities with infrastructure that is proven to offset carbon-emissions and save money but most importantly, save lives. Fernandez hopes that SBHF will serve as a model for other community healthcare centers to become more resilient in the face of disaster. To learn more about energy solutions, click here .
Monterey Bay Aquarium Sets the Green Standard in Education & Energy
Aug. 2019 – An aquarium wouldn’t exist without water and the same holds true with electricity. The Monterey Bay Aquarium not only illuminates its exhibits with energy efficient LED bulbs, its facility runs entirely on renewable energy.
Advocating clean energy through MBPrime, MBCP’s 100% renewable service powered exclusively by wind and solar, makes the Monterey Bay Aquarium this month’s Clean Energy Hero.
Receiving 2 million guests annually, MBA uses this opportunity to educate guests on both individual and community-level action that visitors can bring back to their communities.
MBA educates its volunteers and local visitors about our MBprime service offering in addition to other sustainable initiativesThey take the time to speak with national and global visitors about reducing pollution and more recently, about bringing the concept of Community Choice Energy agency back to their own communities.
As a certified carbon-neutral organization and state leader in renewables, the MBA proves that the efforts of one business can generate a wave of community action. In fact, their Seafood Watch Program has inspired 90% of American seafood retailers to move away from supporting destructive fishing practices. This program promotes healthy ocean habitats while rewarding businesses who adhere to sustainable seafood practices.
Ditching single-use plastics wasn’t cool until the MBA explained that items we use for a few minutes has the potential to destroy vulnerable marine animal populations for centuries.
Last year, the MBA showcased a life size Big Blue Whale to represent the amount of trash that ends up in our ocean every 9 minutes.Whether it’s renewables, sustainable seafood, or going zero-waste, motivating people to take control of their personal choices and sparking community-level action is when change truly becomes impactful.