Youth center to receive solar power

By soaking up the California summer sun, one Foster City company is helping a San Mateo County agency save money and inspire students to give science a chance.

SolarCity, a Foster City supplier of photovoltaic power systems, has joined PG&E’s Solar Schools Program to install a solar-energy system at the San Mateo County Youth Services Center. The 10-feet-by-10-feet, $20,000 unit will bring in approximately 1.4 kilowatts of power, enough to power one classroom at the center each day.

Paid for as part of the $2.5 million PG&E has allotted to expanding the program — which aims to bring the technology to “underserved” groups of students not normally exposed to this science — the panels will likely power a weather station project at the girl’s camp. Later, the panels will supply energy for part of a sustainable garden the girls will maintain, said Mary Anne O’Shea, director of Probation Services.

“[The garden] would not only benefit our use up here, it could be used by groups throughout the county for field trips,” O’Shea said. “It’s a great opportunity to keep our girls connected to the community.”

Though the power is not enough to be used by the overall power grid or provide significant power to the school, the center will save $200 to $300 annually.

“The best way to [expose kids to the science] is to help schools, nonprofits and other groups implement systems that they wouldn’t be able to afford otherwise,” said Keely Wachs, PG&E Environmental Communications Manager. “If we can educate these students on the value of solar and renewable energy now, it will be a more tangible reality for them in the future.”

SolarCity will be installing the system at the services center — which serves at-risk youth at its 30-person girl’s camp and 24-person group home — before the start of the summer according to Karalee Brown, PG&E Solar Schools Program Manager.

The program is rapidly expanding, with a $2.5 million budget this year, up from last year’s $1.7 million.

When the program started in 2004, 10 schools got solar energy systems, and 2007 will bring it to 40 schools.

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