Construction has started on large banks of solar panels at two of Petaluma's high schools, and when the projects are complete in January, the schools should rake in savings of $200,000 per year by harnessing the power of the sun.
On Monday, Oct. 11, crews from a company called Cupertino Electric started work at Casa Grande and Petaluma High Schools on metal awnings that will cover parts of the schools' parking lots. Once the 13-14 foot tall awnings, similar to car ports, are completed, solar panels will be installed on top of them.
"Right now they are drilling for all the underground utilities," said Kyle Manford, facilities manager at Petaluma City Schools. Crews will try to drill footings for posts and start welding the metal frames of the structures before winter rains start, he said.
The awnings provide more efficient solar power than roof-mounted panels because they can be positioned more precisely.
"You can aim the panels southwest, where they need to be, rather than trying to find the perfect fit on buildings," said Manford.
The awnings will cover the majority of Casa Grande's student parking lot, almost all of Petaluma High School's lot, and the center of the staff parking lot at Casa Grande, said Steve Bolman, Petaluma City Schools' head of business and administration.
Parking for students and staff will be confined to nearby streets and auxiliary lots until the lots are expected to open again at the end of January.
"Student parking through the duration of the project will be primarily street parking," said Bolman.
"The kids are encouraged to carpool if they can," said Manford.
Manford said that although students and staff are inconvenienced by the lack of parking, most are excited by the project.