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Soured on solar

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A proposed project to supply local schools with a clean, cheap, and green source of electricity is generating flack for not being so, well … green.

The plan to install solar panels in parking lots and other areas on nine San Luis Coastal Unified School District campuses is still in preliminary stages, but is upsetting residents who learned the arrays will be mounted atop a series of new 12-foot carports instead of existing roofs, requiring the removal of over a hundred trees.

District consultant Brad Parker, who is heading the project, reported at the Feb. 16 board meeting that although many trees would have to be removed, recent reviews have concluded that fewer trees than first anticipated—at some locations even half of what was originally proposed—were up for the chipper. He also said that any tree removed would be replaced elsewhere on the campus.

San Luis Obispo High School remains hardest hit, with up to 70 trees slated for removal.

Parker explained that the rooftops of the schools in question weren’t designed to support solar paneling, and other factors, such as water and dirt accumulation, would affect their productivity.

While most people at the meeting agreed that the board’s heart is in the right place—providing the district with a renewable energy source, saving it money, and educating children about alternative energy—public speakers at the meeting offered up a litany of concerns.

Los Osos Community Advisory Council representative Linde Owen pointed out solar technology is rapidly evolving and their panels could be obsolete well before the 25-year life span.

Others said visual impacts were being ignored. In a statement, Morro Bay Councilwoman Betty Winholtz wrote that carports instead of trees at Morro Bay High along Highway 1 would be unsightly and “another nail in the coffin” for the city’s struggling tourism.

Because the project falls under an exemption from the California Environmental Quality Act, a 30-day posting of the project at the County Clerk’s Office (which fell over the Christmas holiday), was the only required public notice. Los Osos resident Julie Tacker asked the board for further public oversight.

As of now, the project includes Baywood Elementary, Bishop’s Peak Elementary, Pacheco Elementary, Monarch Grove, Laguna Middle School, Los Osos Middle School, Morro Bay High, San Luis Obispo High, and the San Luis Obispo Corporation Yard. The board hopes to start construction this summer.

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