LA Community College System Heads for Energy Independence

Los Angeles Community College Student Services Center LEED Silver buildingBy Leslie Berliant
Originally published on June 17, 2009, at SolveClimate

By the middle of next year, the nine campuses that make up the nation’s largest community college system plan to be completely energy self-sufficient.

It’s a huge step, and it will begin saving money immediately.

The Los Angeles Community College District (LACCD) started down this path in 2001, the year voters approved the first part of $5.7 billion in bond funding to renovate the campuses.

The LACCD Board of Trustees was thinking about much-needed modernization work and its first new construction in 35 years, but it was also thinking ahead. It passed a sustainable building policy mandating that all new buildings that use 50% or more of bond funding be LEED certified. The board had previously developed a renewable energy plan that aimed for a minimum 10% renewable energy standard.

At the time, the trustees were afraid that anything beyond that would be too costly, says Larry Eisenberg, executive director of Facilities, Planning and Development for the LACCD.

The system’s chancellor and the implementation team saw greater potential, though.


They looked at the campuses’ energy costs – around $9 million a year, growing to $10 million by 2010 – and realized that ramping up renewable power would be a money-saving move. The chancellor at the time, Darroch “Rocky” Young, adopted the 100% renewable energy goal as a budgetary measure.

“What began as an environmental policy turned into a budget initiative,” Eisenberg says, “and that’s where it’s been ever since.”

Voters helped things along last fall when they passed Measure J by 70%, allowing for a further bond issue for renewables and other building and infrastructure needs to make the campuses sustainable.

“This policy action has been supported by the voters in three bond measures since 2001. It demonstrates that when the public knows what it is getting for passing bond funds … it will support such measures,” reflects the project’s energy director, Woodrow “Woody” Clark, a Nobel Prize co-recipient for his work with the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) from 1995-2000.

With each campus having a demand base load of 4 to 6 Megawatts, energy independence is no small commitment.

The campuses are using some wind and geothermal energy systems, but they will primarily be turning to solar photovoltaics due to lower costs.

All new buildings will be ‘zero energy’ so that they don’t add to the base load demand. And in preparation for the electrification of America’s fleet, the campuses are installing solar-powered electric re-charging stations for cars and trucks.

The colleges are not going completely off the grid, however, even though they plan to be in a position to do so by mid-2010. That’s because Southern California Edison buys their surplus electricity which brings in money for the District. It isn’t much, Eisenberg says, but it adds to the overall benefits of switching to renewable power.

The LACCD originally hoped to switch to 100% renewable energy by 2008, but the goal was pushed back, in part due to the complications of having campuses spread across two utility companies.

Two large campuses in the Southern California Edison (SCE) area are undergoing solar installations right now, including the East LA Campus (ELAC), which has been producing 1.2 MW in renewable energy since May of 2008, and a third is on track to begin. But the six campuses that receive their energy from the Department of Water and Power (DWP) have been waiting for final rebate program decisions before proceeding. Those decisions are expected within weeks.

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