The Monterey County Herald
May 26, 2015
SALINAS >> What attracted John Rodriguez to Rancho Cielo was its culinary program and his desire to eventually own his own restaurant.
But when Rodriguez arrived at the alternative school in January, the Drummond Culinary Academy was full. As an option, he was offered a spot in the construction academy and its fledgling solar project.
“I hear a lot about the project in King City,” he said, referring to the massive farm of solar panels expected to be built near Parkfield in the Cholame Valley, about 60 miles southeast of King City. Apple has agreed to buy electricity from that farm. “They’re going to be hiring a lot of people.”
Rodriguez, 22, was among the first cohort of solar panel installers at Rancho Cielo, which through a private partnership will set up eight photovoltaic panels throughout its campus.
The partnership will not only allow Rancho Cielo to get clean energy at more affordable prices, but also get the students trained for a job in an expanding sector of the economy.
Community members and Rancho Cielo officials gathered Tuesday at the school to celebrate the program.
Like solving a jigsaw puzzle, The Offset Project brought different pieces together to make the solar project a reality: the project manager, the financing, the teachers and the students.
The project will cost $365,000, but the labor provided by the students makes it more appealing to investors, who stand to make bigger profits. After purchasing the energy produced by the photovoltaic cells for 12 years, the school will be in a position to buy them.
Tony Tersol of Applied Solar Energy, a solar installer, donated the curriculum and is teaching the classes.
“I was a physics teacher at (Monterey Peninsula College) and I have some education experience,” Tersol said.
Tersol had the students survey the campus using Google maps and other tools to determine where they would build the first solar panel. They settled for the workshop, the building best positioned to take a few extra holes in the roof, should mistakes be made.
“They did all the calculations,” Tersol said, referring to the students.
Each panel takes about 10 weeks to install, and Tersol believes it will take about a year to have all eight panels up and running. But he hopes to continue with the solar program for Rancho Cielo students by offering installation of solar panels to nonprofit groups and other local organizations.
Founded in 2000, Rancho Cielo has offered alternative education programs for some of the most troubled young people in Monterey County. The school has also employed some of the youth during its development, such as in the construction of the new transitional housing program and the amphitheater.
Evangelista, 19, is the only female in the solar crew, and she says she’s become sort of a crew leader. When her construction mates got stuck on a problem, they came to her for help.
“I’m going to see if I get a solar job,” she said. “I just finished school but I just figured out my life. It’s a good opportunity. People who don’t know what they’re doing now, they have options now.”
Rodriguez is living in Rancho Cielo’s transitional housing, he said. The rent is affordable — $300 a month — and he’ll get a portion of it as savings when he moves out, he says. But he can’t bring his son to visit so he’ll try to find something else in the near future.
In the meantime, he’s happy about all the opportunities he’s found at Rancho Cielo.
“I still have a passion for cooking and in the future I might want to start my own restaurant,” he told guests during the celebration. “As you can see I have a lot of interests and a bright future ahead of myself.”
Claudia Meléndez Salinas can be reached at 726-4370.