The school district may try to harness the sun's power—and a $2.5 million energy reimbursement from Pacific Gas & Electric—by installing solar power grids at up to 12 school sites in the Pajaro Valley Unified School District.
But the prospect of massive budget cuts caused the school board to flinch at the $10-15 million price tag. Talk of a financing plan or funding the solar upgrades through a bond measure, as well as a guarantee of the rebate warmed school trustees to the project.
"You're creating savings," said Courtney Jenkins, a manager of Chevron Energy Solutions, which provides the solar installation.
Jenkins said the performance-based rebate program through PG&E will give the school district monthly checks for five years and should create 50-60 local jobs. The $2.5 million is reimbursement for the installation.
A dozen school sites are under consideration for the solar panels, including Pajaro Valley High School. PVUSD Chief Business Officer Brett McFadden explained "we leaned towards carports. They are easier to install. they are faster to install."
He pointed out there's also less red tape to construct new structures rather then adding solar panels to a building.
The board will be asked to sign the service agreement by March 14 because of a domino-effect series of deadlines that started when PVUSD applied to secure placeholders in the limited-space PG&E.
However, even if the board approves the contract in March, the school district could still back out, for a small fee.
"You're on the hook, if we don't do anything, for $35,000," McFadden said.
Trustee Willie Yahiro raised questions about hiring Chevron for the project and wanted to seek other proposals. Dave Baldwin, director of energy management, explained that his program bids out all the elements of the project to local contractors and shows those offers to the school districts they work with.
No decision was made Wednesday; the matter will be back before the board in March.
Also at Wednesday's meeting, McFadden reported the school district's dismal budget picture. He told the trustees they should expect $8.7 million or more in cuts—including elimination of transportation funding and a $370 drop in the per-student funding from the state—unless something changes in the governor's budget or voters approve tax measures.
McFadden was not optimistic.
"There are no easy solutions at this point," McFadden said.
No additional layoffs are planned at this point. McFadden said it would create too much turmoil to leave employees in limbo for months. Rather, the district will dip into reserve funds to cover the lost state funding.
The board also gave a final stamp of approval to the Facilities Master Plan, which will be a guiding document for improvement projects in the next decade.