Monterey County’s Santa Rita Union School District

The Santa Rita Union School District (SRUSD), serving an estimated 3,405 students from Preschool through Eighth grade in the Salinas Valley, is home to the nation’s first carbon-free microgrid. Their energy-resilient system designed to better support their students’ health and education goes beyond the school yard – all six campuses fitted with solar plus battery storage make SRUSD the nation’s first Powered Emergency Response Center (PERC).
“California school districts face extremely challenging budgeting situations and any reduction in operational expenses can directly translate into money for teachers, books, or supplies,” commented SRUSD’s superintendent, Dr. Shelly Morr, in a recent Businesswire press release.
“It’s also important for our community that schools aren’t impacted by events such as power outages as this disrupts not only the school day, but parents having to leave work early to scramble to make other arrangements for their children. We’re excited to see these clean energy systems implemented on our school campuses.”
The district-wide renewable project went live in May of 2018 with EcoMotion’s vision and funding made possible through Generate Capital. Photovoltaic car ports and rooftop solar provide SRUSD with 1 megawatt of clean energy, plus ample shade for cars and student lunch shelters. To island the district from the grid entirely, solar is backed with 1.1 megawatt hours of backup battery storage. Each campus can operate for 7 hours with just one sun-harvested charge, acting as a community PERC for decades to come while eliminating extraordinary masses of greenhouse gas emissions.
Shortly after their microgrid went live, SRUSD partnered with Clear Blue Energy Corp. to replace all indoor and outdoor fluorescent light fixtures with bright LED alternatives through Proposition 39, California’s Clean Energy Jobs Act. Smart thermostats were incorporated, making HVAC classroom controls programmable to school schedules, sending alerts if there are any discrepancies to set parameters.

As the first PERC and 100% carbon-free school district, it’s no surprise that SRUSD was the nation’s first to adopt an all-electric school bus. The eLion, funded by a Monterey Bay Air Resources District (MBARD) grant, can go 100 miles per charge and seats up to 64 passengers. This ambitious technology will save the district over $10,000 in annual transportation costs in addition to toxic diesel emissions, improving local air quality and student health.
style=”font-weight: 500; text-align: center;”>“We were already doing some environmental things anyway and this just dovetailed with it as well as looking at the next generation of science standards,” said Morr in the Californian’s First Electric School Bus Arrives in Monterey County. “Our robotics, engineering labs, science garden, it just all came together at the same time. It made sense.”
 A fully resilient campus inclusive of a fossil fuel free microgrid, Level 2 EV charging stations, PERC, smart thermostats and energy efficient lighting are what make Santa Rita Union School District our January Clean Energy Hero. By accomplishing what many view as the impossible, SRUSD proves that with time and in-depth research, we can all empower our communities and youth with sustainable energy solutions.