Trustees debate usage of bond funds

District might use money for new solar system

Members of the San Ramon Valley Unified School District Board of Education last week examined the needs of the district in terms of how to spend a new bond that will bring millions of construction dollars into district coffers.

In late September, the district was one of several chosen in California as being eligible for a Qualified School Construction Bond (QSCB). The program gives the SRVUSD the opportunity to receive up to $25 million in Tax Credit bond funds, to be used on construction projects within the district. The bonds come with a low interest rate, but must be utilized within three years, with a minimum of 10 percent of any monies used within the first six months.

As they debate whether to take out the debt, school board members are looking at how such funds would be best used. The prevailing opinion of district staff is that the implementation of a district-wide solar array is the plan that provides the best chance of creating a revenue stream for the repayment of the bonds but would also eventually create an annual savings for the district.

"As I've shared with some of you, I wish that my recommendation could be perhaps more powerful and with fewer qualifications," said Enoch. "On one level us making a strong statement about solar energy use and modeling that for our students seems like a natural step for us."

Enoch cautioned the board that there are still a number of questions to be answered with regards to solar. Chief among them is how much energy such an array would generate and how much of a savings it would mean for the district.

Early projections provided by staff show that over 25 years the photovoltaic system would generate 124,673,207 kilowatt/hours of energy. The system cost over that 25 years is estimated at just over $19 million while the cost of purchasing a similar amount of energy from Pacific Gas and Electric would be over $35 million.

Enoch said those numbers are promising, but so far there are no guarantees that the estimates will hold up once the system is in place.

"There are some assumptions that go into this model. It could be right, it could be wrong," Enoch stated. "With that said, I would point out some key elements. I think the board should look at solar as break even. There are some who see it as a money maker. It certainly has a revenue stream. Once you get past the 15 years payout on the debt, there is a chance of annual savings for the district."

Two other projects also have been suggested as possible uses for construction bond money. The Wolf Foundation, the parents group working to improve facilities at San Ramon Valley High School, has asked the board to replace the bleachers at the athletic fields and has also requested that either major improvements be made on the school's existing pool or that a new pool be built.

Wolf Foundation member Chris Carter said he understands the idea of using the bond funds for the solar array and the potential benefits to the district, but he also sees that there are serious needs at the high school that are not being met.

"What I do know is we have two facilities that are desperately in need of being replaced. And if this board would say, 'This is something we can do next year,' I'd be happy and sit down and shut up," Carter said.

Enoch said that they are examining both the bleachers and the pool. He said $150,000 in Measure A funds has been set aside for the bleachers, making them safer for the student population. He said they may be able to look at Measure A for the pool as well, or other possible funding options.

School board members were cautious in approaching the prospect of incurring more debt and filled with questions about the solar project and whether it can do provide the type of power generation that is being described.

"I am pleased that staff is recommending the money be spent," said Trustee Greg Marvel. "But I am glad we are continuing to do our due diligence on this. I want to see where the weak spots are, the holes."

Board President Bill Clarkson said he was leery of putting such a large financial commitment into solar without having a stronger sense of the return on the investment. He also called for the board to enter into discussions with the Town of Danville over the high school swimming pool, to see if there might be some shared cost for the facility improvement.

Ultimately, the board voted to direct staff to continue looking into the solar array, and asked it to come back with more information and an updated recommendation by November. The board will need to make a decision on whether or not it will use the opportunity for the $25 million bond before the Dec. 31 deadline.


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Posted by Bob
a resident of Danville
on Oct 29, 2009 at 8:53 am

Well, here we go again. So, a pile of money is available at low interest rates so we need to go get it and decide what to do with it. Hello?
Shouldn’t the approach be that funding follows the budget which is driven by the strategy? The approach being discussed here is the classic: ‘Ready, Fire, Aim”.
But hasn’t the budgeting process (not to mention lack of accountability to the taxpayers) been that way over the past years? “Why change now” might be the standard with the new schools administration.
As to my opinion whether solar use is cost-effective, I haven’t seen any positive projections other than the ones from the salesmen … but that’s not the key issue here … it’s effective management of taxpayer funds.

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Posted by Tom Kelly
a resident of another community
on Oct 29, 2009 at 1:27 pm

SRVUSD has a great opportunity to offset its rising electricity costs by using the QSCBs to install solar. The cost for solar has been dropping significantly over the past year due in part to the faltering economy and to the saturation of panels in the market.

The financing provided by the near 0% interest QSCBs will provide the district with a positive revenue stream for the full term of the bonds (15 years). At the end of the term, all the electricity provided by the panels will make a significant dent in the district's expenses, thus reducing pressure on its general fund. It's a great deal that can be supported by the conservative assumptions made about future electricity costs and electricty generation. The benefits (which also include the district's reduction in greenhouse gas emissions) are extraordinary and should not be passed up.

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Posted by Lisa Mason
a resident of Alamo
on Oct 30, 2009 at 6:26 am

This is a wonderful opportunity to provide the benefits of solar to our school district. With these low cost bonds and other rebates available for solar, the district may actually end up saving a substantial amount of money on energy costs. It truly seems like a “no-brainer” to reap all of the benefits of solar while also generating more money for school programs, especially in light of our current budget woes.

The application for these low interest rate bonds came about thanks to the advocacy of a group of SRVUSD students, mentored by their teachers, administrators, parents, and other concerned members of our community. We applaud the school board for doing their due diligence to make sure that the numbers do work out, but we hope that they are not overly cautious—it would be a shame to miss out on this opportunity.

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Posted by N. F.
a resident of Alamo
on Oct 30, 2009 at 10:53 am

I think going solar is a great idea especially in light of increasing electric costs. I for one would fully and proudly support this initiative.

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Posted by S.E.
a resident of San Ramon Valley High School
on Oct 30, 2009 at 8:36 pm

What a great idea to put solar panels up on the schools. It makes great financial sense for the schools, it reduces our dependence on foreign oil, and it is good for the planet. I also have heard that a lot of the parking lots will get shade structures. That will be awesome. All the kids I have spoken with are for it. I can't wait to see the panels go up.

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Posted by Susan
a resident of San Ramon
on Oct 31, 2009 at 3:07 pm

Going Solar is a great idea. It saves money and reduces our carbon footprint. I believe that Milpitas and San Diego school districts have gone solar at every school. It's nice to see San Ramon catching up.

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Posted by Doug M.
a resident of Alamo
on Nov 1, 2009 at 3:52 pm

Almost 2 years ago, the Contra Costa Community College District decided that investing $35.2 million in solar energy was a good idea. Rebates and incentives brought the cost down to $26.7 million. They now have a 3.2-megawatt solar power generation system comprising photovoltaic panels mounted on 34 parking canopies in six parking lots at Contra Costa College, Diablo Valley College and Los Medanos College. The project is anticipated to save $70 million over the next 25 years, ($2.8 million saved per year.) The cost of the system will be recovered over time by the annual cost savings achieved as a result of the new systems.

Benefits of that system include:
Reduced grid power purchases of 7.4 million kilowatt-hours per year, enough to power about 1,200 homes;
Shaded daytime parking and improved parking lot lighting at night;
Solar information kiosks that provide real-time data on the production, conversion and electricity output at each campus
Better operations through energy management system controls and real-time monitoring of energy production and consumption.

With $25 million in near zero interest Qualified School Construction Bonds available, the SRVUSD is looking at a very similar sized project. Right now, the market is even better than it was two years ago for purchasing PV solar panels. There is a worldwide glut of panels and solar panel vendors are hungry for customers. The PG&E rebates and state and federal tax credits are very generous. What was a good idea 2 years ago is a great idea today.

Investing in solar energy is the prudent choice. It will show leadership, it will free up funds for other important projects and needs, and it will reduce the fossil fuel consumption and CO2 output of the SRVUSD. It is a necessary step for any school district even considering moving up to world class status.

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Posted by Darlene Gayler
a resident of Alamo
on Nov 2, 2009 at 2:14 pm

Please let the solar experts speak, instead of making decisions based on little information or inaccurate statements. Solar is a great opportunity for the schools and for our enviroment!

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Posted by Cheryl M.
a resident of Danville
on Nov 2, 2009 at 5:10 pm

I agree with Lisa, Doug M., Tom, et al--we have an opportunity to invest in a solar energy system that promises to reduce expenses, take advantage of rebates, credits, and allows money be put back in to the general fund for use elsewhere, and we need to make sure that the SRVUSD is taking a good hard look at it. At a time when the SRVUSD and superindendent are looking to reduce expenses and move toward being a more futuristic force in education, it would seem to me that an eco-friendly solution proposed by the students, and for benefit of all the students should be very seriously considered.

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Posted by Hal, CDSI
a resident of another community
on Nov 2, 2009 at 5:13 pm

Dear Dolores,

Please ask Terry Koehne if the subject of solar and various government-sponsored incentives would be of interest to SRVUSD. CDSI members and their principals are producers of Solar PV and arrays for commercial installation as power generation and hot water (including radiant heating) systems.

I would be happy to create the links for the EXPRESS in support of SRVUSD.

Harald A. Bailey
Technology & Markets Development
CIRCA Development Services (CIRCA/ds)
Member, CDSI Research Fellowship

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Posted by Frank
a resident of Alamo
on Nov 4, 2009 at 1:33 pm

Solar should pay for itself in less than 10 years assuming historical increases in energy costs. Plus, it's the right thing to do in terms of supporting green energies.

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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