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Newhall School District opts to wait on solar installation

District officials say a better deal might be struck with new construction coming

Posted: September 25, 2012 5:46 p.m.
Updated: September 25, 2012 5:46 p.m.

Newhall School District officials have halted talks with a solar-energy firm, saying they might get a better deal on solar panel arrays if they work with a firm hired for school reconstruction.

The district was in the negotiations phase with Psomas FMG, a solar-energy company that recently installed panels with the William S. Hart Union High School District.

The move is not a reflection of negotiations, which were going well, said Newhall school board member Brian Walters.

“The choice was between moving ahead with solar or waiting for the architect,” said Superintendent Marc Winger. “We said, ‘Let’s slow it down and wait.’”

Several concerns were raised at the district’s Sept. 19 meeting, including the fact that solar energy is a relatively nascent industry, that the district would need to sign a 20-year energy lease, and that the project hadn’t been competitively vetted.

Since voters passed Measure E last November and district officials were readying to OK spending the first $20 million of the $60 million bond, it made sense to see if the additional construction might bring an even better deal for solar energy, said board member Phil Ellis.

It might also improve the positioning of the solar panels, he added. Initial Psomas plans sought to minimize the impact on fields. But additional construction might make it even easier.

“If they can keep (the panels) off the ground and on the roofs and out of the way, it will be much better for the environment,” Ellis said. “And so it makes sense to take a short delay to see what we can do.”

The proposal with Psomas didn’t require competitive bidding because under the terms, Psomas would have assumed construction costs, Winger said.

The board began talks with Psomas after listening to a pitch from officials with the company in the spring, according to board member Sue Solomon.

Solomon said the move means the district likely is forgoing a $30,000 bonus that would have been paid to the district upon completion of the project.

Psomas officials are in various stages of negotiation with Castaic Union and Sulphur Springs school districts regarding alternative-energy investments, according to officials from both districts.

Psomas officials made several presentations for the district and negotiated potential energy terms, Solomon said. But no deal was ever struck.

“We made the determination that it would be in our best interests to look into it in terms of our whole modernization program,” Solomon said.

“(Psomas officials) were disappointed, but they’re still willing to work with us in the future.”




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