Clovis News

Solar savings

Solar panels throughout Clovis Unified School District save about $2.7 million annually in energy bills — and provide shade for vehicles.
Solar panels throughout Clovis Unified School District save about $2.7 million annually in energy bills — and provide shade for vehicles.

Summertime in the Central Valley means sunshine and triple digits, but Clovis Unified isn’t sweating it — those sweltering conditions add up to seven figures in energy savings annually.

Solar panels that together generate 5.86 megawatts of power were installed in 2013 at 21 school sites, including the district’s main office, said Don Ulrich, the district’s assistant superintendent of facility services.

That brought CUSD’s energy bill — which was about $7.5 to $8 million per year — down by about $2.7 million.

“That’s what we have estimated we would save and we’re a little above that,” Ulrich explained. “The weather has been favorable and our operational cost and maintenance have been a little less than we planned for, so we’re saving actually about $2.8 million.”

The savings is actually a bit higher, Ulrich said, because Pacific Gas & Electric rates have continued to climb.

“What was a $7.5 million bill would’ve been higher, so (the real figures is) what you would’ve saved had you not done solar,” he said.

This summer, final design plans will be drawn up for the second phase of solar systems at 23 school sites, which will outfit just about the entire district with solar where it’s cost effective.

This group of systems will be nearly twice as large as the first, with a capacity of 11 megawatts, Ulrich said.

The anticipated energy cost savings comes to about $1 million although the system is larger.

That’s because the district’s first solar energy system was purchased outright using bond funds authorized by voters in 2012.

This time around, the district doesn’t have the cash up front to buy and install panels.

“We will use what’s called a power purchase agreement, where you actually have a vendor that you select build the system and maintain ownership of the system, but you agree to buy the power back from them at a significantly reduced rate,” Ulrich said. “It’s a very prudent way to do it if you don’t have the cash up front.

There is a buyout clause in the board-approved agreement with SolarCity, which allows the district to purchase the system after six years, Ulrich said.

“If we pass a bond measure that the citizens approve, we could buy that system and save even more dollars operationally,” he said.

The solar panels will be almost exclusively installed over parking lots throughout the district.

“Sometimes you’ll see them over play structures at elementary schools,” Ulrich said. “But typically parking lots is a real cost effective way to do it and provides an added benefit of providing shade for vehicles. In the Central Valley that is a great benefit.”

The new systems will go up at 15 elementary schools, all of the district’s high schools and Veterans Memorial Stadium.

“It’s all based on a really sophisticated analysis that our designer and consultant did for us that takes every power meter in our district and ranks them from high to low, as far as what would be the most efficient place and school to go to first,”Ulrich said. “We just started at the top — get the most bang for your buck.”

Construction is set to begin in September, with an approximate completion date of mid-June 2017.

The energy cost savings means more money can be spent elsewhere in the district.

“These are all operational funds that run our school district and primarily pay our staff and our teachers, maintain our buildings, buy programs and curriculum and provide staff development for our teachers,” Ulrich said. “That savings of almost $3 million will go right back to those things that we need to do for kids and for teachers.”

In phase two of the solar project, panels will be installed at the following Clovis Unified sites:

Bud Rank Elementary

Cedarwood Elementary

Copper Elementary

Freedom Elementary

Gettysburg Elementary

Jefferson Elementary

Liberty Elementary

Maple Creek Elementary

Miramonte Elementary

Oraze Elementary

Sierra Vista Elementary

Valley Oak Elementary

Temperance-Kutner Elementary

Tarpey Elementary

Cole Elementary

Veterans Memorial Stadium

Clovis East High School

Clovis West High School

Clovis North High School

Buchanan High School

Clovis High School

Clovis Adult School

Gateway High School