The possibility of two solar panels in Palo Alto High School’s El Camino parking lot blocking the view of the historic Tower Building has disappeared with a Palo Alto Unified School District board decision on Tuesday to move the panels to another location on campus.
According to the latest plan created by the PAUSD staff and REC Solar, the contractor overseeing the construction of the panels, there will be no panels in the parking lot off of El Camino Real. The plan still contains one panel in the Churchill parking lot in between Ray Field and the El Camino field, and two panels in the bus parking lot.
The proposal that the board accept the plan, with an amendment by board member Jennifer DiBrienza directing staff to investigate alternative locations for the two panels, passed unanimously.
“I am very interested in if there is support from the board for directing staff to make a last attempt to find out if there’s a place we can put those last two panels that we lost,” DiBrienza said. “While I appreciate that the staff has moved them away from a location that was very upsetting to a lot of our community, I don’t want to lose those panels.”
Removing the two panels in the El Camino parking lot from the plan could cause the project to have a projected net cost of $19,000 per year, according to PAUSD chief business officer Cathy Mak.
However, according to the description provided on the board agenda, the financial cost of the project was only one of the factors behind the district’s decision to go solar and was outweighed by the community outcry against the obstruction of the historic buildings on campus
Ron Ellis, the PAUSD director of maintenance, operations, and transportation, responded to concerns expressed by board member Melissa Baten-Caswell that sunlight reflected off of the panels could harm the trees growing along the path by Ray Field.
“The panels are angled southwest,” Ellis said. “That’s away from those trees, so there would be no reflection on those trees because the direction to maximize sunlight, to maximize generation, is away from those trees.”
According to speaker and junior Galileo Defendi-Cho, renewable energy should still be of greater importance than the view of a building.
“To the best of my knowledge, the majority of Paly students and faculty as well as the Paly Environmental Clubs Organization value the environmental benefits of solar panels and maintaining Paly’s reputation as a progressive, environmentally conscious school, more than they value the view of a building from one angle,” Defendi-Cho said.
Speaker and Paly Librarian Rachel Kellerman spoke out in support of the new plan.
“I know from my long years in education that teachers, librarians, administrators, and board members … we all come and go, and it’s ultimately up to us what we leave behind,” Kellerman said. “If we take good care of the classrooms and the buildings in which we work, then the educators who come after us will regard us as great stewards.”