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Sun-Powered Schools May Be On Horizon

The Pajaro Valley Unified School District is considering going solar.

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.

Tom Kelly February 24, 2012 at 06:29 PM
I am heartened to hear about PVUSD's pursuit of renewable energy. KyotoUSA has worked with the District to help it get a better understanding of how this type of transaction works and the benefits it provides. Based on the Patch article, I do wish to raise a cautionary note. Every PV project should be put out to public bid. A district will receive better pricing and overall better value. The article suggests that the District is considering signing a service agreement with a provider who will in turn bid the project out to installers. This is not what I would call a public bid process. I do not believe that the District will get the benefits associated with a competitive bid process if it follows this route. On other note - the District can still qualifiy at Step 10 of the California Solar Initiative rebate program. It does require a reservation fee which is returned to the District when the projects are completed. It is likely that the rebate will be available at this level beyond mid-March so, in my opinion, the District should not rush into an agreement with any installer based upon a concern that it will miss out on the rebate if it does not sign a service agreement immediately. We have published a Solar Master Plan for Calfornia's public schools that has a chapter on procurement that outlines the benefits of competitive bidding and the pitfalls of sole sourcing. It's available (at no cost) at www.heliosproject.org

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