Faced with budget challenges, Milpitas Unified School District can rely on a savings in electricity each year due to its solar panels.
In 2010, when the district would have spent $1.12 million in electricity bills, it actually saved nearly $106,000, said Lindsey Corbin, regional director of business development for Chevron Energy Solutions. Part of that savings was the unused excess electricity sold during the summer months for more than $20,000.
The solar panels found on every school campus in the district, and the corp yard, offset 75 percent of the district's electricity needs during the school year, and 100 percent during the summer, said Corbin, whose company designed, operates and maintains the system.
The solar energy generated is also an environmental asset. The carbon reduction equivalent is comparable to 1,252 football fields worth of pine forest, said Corbin.
For the average consumer, the financing can be hard to figure out at first. California Solar Initiative and others provided $4.2 million to offset the cost. The Bank of America financed $30 million to construct the system and owns it. Chevron Energy Solutions runs and maintains the system. In the end, the income it generates is more than what the district pays the bank in installments.
"Over the last few years the cost of our fixed monthly payments to Bank of America coupled with the income generated by the sale of Renewable Energy Credits are less than what was estimated we would have paid PG&E [had we not installed solar panels]," according to John Cimino, Milpitas Unified School District's director of maintenance operations and transportation.
The district has the opportunity to purchase the 3.4 megawatt system at slightly more than $15 million in 2015, less than the $30 million Bank of America used to finance the project, according to Cimino in an email. The contract between the bank, CES and the district is for 23 years.
The solar panels, which became fully operational in January 2009, was a project of Superintendent Karl Black.
In a phone interview earlier this year he said, "I'm proud the board had the courage to do this. We are an educational institution. It's important the next generation learn from our example."
He also said he was proud that the school district had the highest offset of electricity from solar photovoltaic panels, 75-80 percent, in the country.
While other schools with photovoltaic solar power systems have experienced theft of their panels, Milpitas has had other issues.
"There have been some panels hit by large vehicles, and some minor vandalism graffitti on the support poles affecting approximately 1 percent of the panels," wrote Cimino.
He offers some tips for school districts considering solar panels:
• All districts are different. One size does not fit all.
• Involve all stakeholders in the process. The district departmentalized the project review and had an independent financial advisor review the contract as part of our process.
• Partner with long-time companies that are financially stable and use products that have been time tested.
• Maximize the system size to get the most of it.
• The district had the system designed to be independent from existing buildings so there would be no issues with ongoing maintenance programs, roofing, and modular classroom relocation.