The government of Catalonia, a semiautonomous region of northeast Spain with its capital in Barcelona, approved a decree last month calling for the construction of solar panels on the roofs of 108 public schools.
The idea is not only to generate electricity in a Mediterranean climate blessed with ample sun, but to educate students on the benefits of solar energy — and to provide jobs in a country with a 17.9 percent unemployment rate, the highest in the euro zone.
If the pilot program proves successful, it will be expanded to at least 200 of the region’s public buildings, like hospitals and government buildings, according to Adam Sedo Gali, a spokesman for Catalonia’s economy and finance ministry.
Catalonia is, in fact, one of the most progressive territories in Europe on renewable energy. The water systems in all new residential construction since 2006, for example, must be heated by solar panels. In the last three years, the Catalan government has given more than 15 million euros, or $21.9 million, in grants to homeowners to help pay for their installations.
Catalonia has also declared a goal of procuring at least 11 percent of all energy used in the region from renewable sources by 2015. That plan specifies the amount of energy to come from various sources, like wind and geothermal.
For solar energy, the government has already surpassed its goal by 60 percent, with 161 megawatts of installed capacity. Overall, Catalonia generated 2.8 percent of its energy from renewable sources in 2007, the latest available data.
“There is strong political will to promote renewable energy in Catalonia,’’ said Xavier Arola, the general director of ICF Equipments, the Catalan government entity in charge of the schools project. “We’re trying to structure it with the private sector in such a way to maximize the number of jobs created and that education is served.’’
Under the school plan, the government will issue a tender on Oct. 8 in which private companies will compete for contracts to install and operate the panels. The companies will sell electricity to Catalonia’s dominant utility, Endesa, which is required by law to buy it.
The government expects to receive 750,000 euros a year in leasing fees and estimates the companies will invest about 10 million euros in the installations. The panels will generate a total of 1.8 megawatts of electricity and cover 14,400 square meters, or 155,000 square feet of roof space.
The private companies will also be required to provide written educational materials that the schools can incorporate into their curriculums, as well as to install panels inside classrooms that will show students how much electricity is being generated in real time — and how much C02 is not being pumped into the atmosphere as a result.
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