Public Sector


East Side Union High School District

East Side Union High School District

The Opportunity

The East Side Union High School District (East Side UHSD) in San José is one of the largest high school districts in California, with a proud legacy of preparing students to meet the challenges of the future. In 2009, after a series of state funding cuts, the district was faced with critical budget decisions that required creative and responsible strategies. Inspired by the idea of addressing these pressing fiscal constraints while also establishing a new legacy as a sustainable district, East Side UHSD began assessing opportunities to reduce energy costs through a large-scale solar program. In June 2011, the district completed the largest solar power and energy efficiency program at a K–12 school district in the United States.

The Partnership

The district selected OpTerra Energy Services to design a program that would leverage capital dollars to generate budget relief and provide renewable electrical power to its schools. Collaborating with district senior staff, principals, teachers and community members over several months, OpTerra crafted an optimal and viable program that would enable the district to take advantage of long-term energy cost savings and incentives without using bond dollars to fund the project.

The Impact

While the district saved resources through this ambitious solar program, OpTerra was also committed to positively impacting the learning environment through energy education for teachers and students. OpTerra education specialists provided professional development for teachers and provided solar kits and curriculum to students to help the district’s historic energy program come to life. Hands-on experiments aligned with state standards help to create a living laboratory to advance environmental awareness and energy consciousness.

Over the past three years, the district has monitored the program as energy upgrades offset East Side UHSD’s annual electric utility power purchase by more than 55 percent. This translates to carbon emissions avoidance of more than 4,900 metric tons per year, equivalent to the amount of carbon sequestered by more than 800 football fields of pine forest. Over the lifetime of the program, the district expects to realize more than $43 million in net savings that can continue to be directed to other high-priority district initiatives. The solar power and energy efficiency program will deliver lasting benefits for many years and is a shining example of the East Side Union High School District’s fiscal responsibility and environmental leadership.

The Technical Scope

  • The project included 7.1 megawatts of solar photovoltaic power generation at 13 district sites, energy-efficient lighting retrofits at 10 schools and the Education Center, premium efficiency motors and variable-frequency drives with flow control on pool pumps at nine schools.