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Solar gets green light in Castaic

School district officials hope to have installation started by end of year

Posted: October 7, 2012 2:00 a.m.
Updated: October 7, 2012 2:00 a.m.
 

Castaic Union School District officials are moving ahead with a plan to power their schools with solar energy at no cost to the district, officials said Friday.

The plan is similar to a deal the William S. Hart Union High School struck with Psomas FMG, and it involves the same company. Psomas provides solar-panel installation for free and leases energy back to the district.

“It’s relieving the general fund of utility cost and providing shade structures, which can cost up to $50,000 (each),” said David Huffaker, board member for Castaic Union School District. “It’s a huge deal.”

The projected savings for the first year is approximately $25,000, and over the span of the 20-year energy lease, savings could reach $1.75 million, according to district documents.

The district will be saving “the difference between what we will pay for power from Psomas versus what we would have paid to Edison,” said Superintendent James Gibson.

District officials have been researching the idea for more than a year, Huffaker said, a process that included presentations from different solar companies, as well as attending trade fairs and alternative-energy seminars.

District officials also looked at partnerships with other districts considering solar power and whether such partnerships would mean additional discounts, Huffaker said.

Newhall School District was in the final stages of negotiation with Psomas before it decided at a board meeting last month to hold off on a solar energy contract.

Newhall officials said the move wasn’t due to any problems with Psomas negotiations. Since voters passed the $60 million Measure E bond last November, it made sense to see if the additional construction authorized under the bond might bring an even better deal for solar energy, said Newhall board member Phil Ellis.

“We have different considerations (than Newhall) that led us to proceed with the project,” in spite of a Castaic school bond measure on the November ballot, Huffaker said.

The shade structures that would come with solar installation has greater value for Castaic than for Newhall, Gibson said. Campus soil in Castaic prevents simply planting trees for shade, he said.

Myriad legal and safety requirements must be met when adding a shade structure, which can push the cost of building a 15-by-15-foot shade structure up to about $50,000 each, he said.
The shading that will come from the paneling will represent approximately $9 million in free construction, Gibson said.

Huffaker said district officials hope to have solar-panel installation under way by the end of the year.

“We’re proceeding now into the design and engineering phase,” said Al Nagy of Psomas FMG. “We do soil surveys and very detailed surveys, and then select the best system and the best equipment that will be the most efficient for performance for the school district.”

With a bond on the ballot, Huffaker wanted to make sure voters knew the project didn’t have any capital costs associated with it.

“We’re trying to be careful,” Huffaker said. “We’ve always been financially responsible, and that’s why we’re still at 20-to-1 (teacher-to-student ratios) for K-3.”

psmith@the-signal.com

661-287-5526

 

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