After a fairly lengthy discussion Tuesday night, San Ramon Valley Unified School District board members voted to approve an agreement that would have solar panels installed at six district schools. The unanimous decision awarded SunPower Corp. the $23.2-million contract, with the expectation that they would be functioning by the start of the 2011-12 school year.
The panels are funded by the sale of Qualified School Construction Bonds, up to $25 million. With the money available that wasn't in the contracted, Richard Lowell, director of Facilities Development, said some would fund security cameras and any unintended costs.
Lowell said the system would generate two-thirds of the electricity to power the four high schools and two middle schools. They would be installed in carport-like fashion over the school parking lots.
Superintendent Steven Enoch said the board ultimately had to decide if solar was the right thing for the district and whether the savings would be sufficient enough to offset the payments of the bond. They should also look at the long-term savings, he added, and the need to put aside the savings to cover maintenance 20-plus years down the line.
Board members seemed to agree that there were risks whether they chose to approve the agreement or not.
Board member Paul Gardner, referencing the solar plan, said that while there was no way to be certain that it would make enough money to pay the bond, it was "hard not to make it a compelling case."
There were some controversies on the road to awarding the contract, including the issue of ensuring that the funds would follow the Buy American standards.
Bill Kelly, a SunPower representative, said that the photovoltaic cells are manufactured in the Philippines and the modules are assembled in the United States as required by the provisions. In total, he said 65 percent of their modules are American-made.
Lowell also addressed a concern from a board member that certain companies were excluded from consideration. No one was excluded he said, and the decision on which company to go with wasn't based on the Buy American provisions.
The agreement with SunPower would include a 17-year warranty on the products and a guarantee that the solar panel system would generate at least 95 percent of the power as promised. If not, Lowell said SunPower would have to write the school district a check. When it comes to monitoring the metering, PG&E is said to have a third-party vendor.
A public hearing was held before the action item, but no one spoke to the board.