As the clock ticks toward the deadline for a decision, members of the San Ramon Valley Unified School District continue discussing the merits of using a one-time low interest bond to implement a large scale solar project at several of the district's schools.
SRVUSD is one of only 43 districts in the state of California to be given access to the Qualified School Construction Bonds. The bonds, offered as a means of stimulating economic growth by having districts enter into short-term construction projects, would allow participating entities to get a bond of up to $25 million. San Ramon Valley's plan is to seek out the full amount, which would then be used to install solar panels at up to eight of the district's schools.
Conservative estimates from district facilities officials predict an immediate savings of $2.5 million per year for the first five years. Margaret Brown, Assistant Superintendent for Facilities Development, said during the first five years, the district will receive rebates from the California Solar Initiative. Those rebates, coupled with an expected savings of $1.1 million in PG&E costs would make up the annual amount.
Brown explained that the district would have 14-17 years to pay back the bond, after which the annual savings, minus the maintenance costs of the solar equipment, would go into the district's general fund.
"The solar project as proposed is groundbreaking in terms of size and payback. It will free up a lot of general fund dollars," she stated.
Trustees also heard from energy consultant Clyde Murley, of Murley Consulting, on the benefits of moving ahead with the solar project. Murley said that the most immediate positive effect is the cost savings.
"It promises to be cheaper than the alternative of continuing to receive all electricity from PG&E for the next 25-35 years. No longer be vulnerable to PG&E price increases," he said.
Murley added that by moving in the direction of solar the district will be coming into line with the mandates set down by Assembly Bill 32. AB32 calls for a reduction in carbon emissions to 1990 levels by the year 2020. Murley said the proposed system would create a carbon free source of electricity for the schools that receive the panels.
Trustees were enthusiastic about the possibility of making the switch to solar but still had many questions and concerns. Trustee Greg Marvel requested further information on the other scenarios Brown and staff had run regarding the numbers.
"You've shown us your most conservative estimates," he said. "I want to see what the wildly optimistic assessment. What's the potential upside?"
Board President Bill Clarkson said he is in full support of moving to solar, but questions the projected savings and whether the project will indeed be self sustaining.
"My question is whether this is a financially smart thing to do," he said. "If we're going to commit $25 million to a project and our assumptions are off it's going to cost us a lot of money. So I want this to be a rigorous process."
Clarkson asked staff to speak to PG&E to get estimates on what power rates are going to be over the next several years.
"I want more confidence in the numbers, and I want people who don't have a conflict of interest giving us advice," he explained. "I don't need someone who is an advocate of solar power coming in and talking to us."
Brown said she is confident that they can get the information requested by the board members and present it at their workshop session Nov. 19.
In order to keep the process moving, though, the board approved entering into a Joint Powers Agreement with the California Municipal Finance Authority as a means of setting up the necessary mechanisms to get the QCSB bond.
Brown said that entering into the agreement does not constitute approval by the board of moving ahead with the project, but simply allows staff to have the paperwork and background done to move ahead if the board gives its blessing.
Trustees will have until Dec. 31 to make a decision