■ Kyle Selby / Reporter
MSJC officials “flipped the switch” on the northeast side of the San Jacinto campus during a ceremony to celebrate the first completed project under Measure AA on Thursday, March 16.
“What a fantastic way to get together with our first completed Measure AA project,” said Tom Ashley. Measure AA, a $295 million bond, was approved by voters in 2014. “You pass that bond and you want to see buildings, and the community wants to see progress, and it just doesn’t go that fast — there’s a long process. But here we are with our finished project.”
The project: a six-acre field comprised of 3,287 solar panels, generating 1.1 megawatts of solar energy. Over the next 25 years, the project is expected to save the college $5.4 million in energy costs, as well as removing 1,136 metric tons of carbon dioxide from the environment each year. The project also came with a 99 percent performance guarantee for 25 years, compliments of Borrego Solar, the project developer.
“It’s important to continue to support solar-friendly initiatives in the state,” said Borrego Solar representative Audrey Copeland. “We really want to help more colleges and students bring solar online, and benefit from a clean tech economy.”
The solar project, which was initially board-approved in October, cost $2.7 million, nearly $100,000 less than what MSJC originally budgeted for.
“It came in under budget, and on time,” Ashley said. Interestingly, the project would have totaled $3.8 million had the district followed the popular shaded carport route. Instead, they wanted to take advantage of their approximately 130 free acres, ultimately saving a third of the cost.
“This solar field has been operational for a few weeks now,” revealed Brian Orlauski, interim vice president of business services, during the ceremony. “We’ve already generated 93 megawatts of electricity.”
Orlauski says the project “just made financial sense.” Having energy-saving initiatives in the past, such as lighting and air conditioning retrofits, they found that this solar project could both save the district money, while making them more environmentally friendly. A lot of community colleges in the state have used Gov. Jerry Brown’s Prop 39 (Clean Energy Jobs Act) funds to bankroll similar projects.
“This is a small symbol of what is to come, and fortunately this is the first significant project we were able to deliver out of the [measure AA] bond,” said MSJC Superintendent/President Dr. Roger Schultz. “We’ve got a decade’s worth of projects ahead of us.”
Of those upcoming Measure AA projects on the San Jacinto campus: an $8.9 million upgrade to the athletic facilities within the next six to eight months, and plans of a Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) building.
According to the college’s master plan, a similar solar project is expected to be built on the Menifee campus as well, but rather as a solar carport over a future parking structure, which is currently in its conceptual stages. New math and science buildings for the campus are also being discussed.
“[The solar project] is really the first of, hopefully more than a decade, of wonderful events like this,” said Schultz.