SRVUSD solar system now operational


The San Ramon Valley Unified School District's solar project is now operational and as of October 1st, converting solar energy to electricity. The solar initiative, which is expected to generate 6.2 million kilowatt hours per year, was recently featured on CNN.

Monte Vista and San Ramon Valley high schools, Diablo Vista Middle school and San Ramon's California and Doughtery Valley high schools have all installed panels. Below are some frequently asked questions regarding the project:

Q: What is the San Ramon Valley Unified School District's current Solar Project?

A: SRVUSD is in the final stages of constructing solar arrays in the parking lots of five schools in the District: California High School, Dougherty Valley High School, Monte Vista High School, San Ramon Valley High School and Diablo Vista Middle School. These five systems are comprised of more than 10,000 panels. The systems, by contract, begin converting solar energy to electricity at these schools starting October 1, 2011.

Q: How is the project being funded?

A: The Federal government, as part of its most recent stimulus program established the "Qualified School Construction Bond Program." SRVUSD applied for and was approved to receive $25 million in QSCBs through this program. Essentially this is a near 0% interest loan to the District that is paid off through the energy savings realized by the systems.

Q: What is the cost to the school district?

A: There is no net cost to the district because the monthly energy savings are being applied to the debt service. In approximately 16 years the bonds will be paid off and the District will begin realizing an estimated $3-5 million per year in energy savings to the District's General Fund Budget.

Q: Why would the SRVUSD consider incurring so much debt with the budget problems we are facing?

A: Financial consultants have analyzed the solar project and determined that it will provide significant cost savings, actually freeing up significant funds for direct support of students and schools. After 25 years, the cumulative savings (after the debt is paid) is expected to exceed $23 million. The District will be paying for the solar panels with rebates and savings on electricity.

Q: How were these Qualified Construction Bonds to be used?

A: They were intended to create jobs through approved construction projects. The Board of Education decided that the money should be used for solar as it would generate savings to pay back the loan and create on-going savings to the district. The Board and staff also believed it was important for the school district to model environmental stewardship and energy conservation for students and the community.

Q: How long has the District been involved in this process?

A: The Board of Education approved the project in May, 2010 following several months of study and numerous public meetings, which included a report and recommendation from an independent community-based committee.

Q: Why were these five schools chosen as Solar Schools?

A: Independent consultants concluded that the selected sites would generate the greatest return on the investment. Having large, open parking lots was the most significant factor for determining where to install the solar shade structures.

Q: How much energy are these systems projected to produce?

A: Combined, the systems incorporate more than 10,000 solar panels. The systems will generate more than 60% of the electricity needed for the schools, with an expected first-year output of more than six million kilowatt hours (kWh).

Q: What solar company did the district choose to install the systems and why?

A: After many proposals and a lengthy interview process, SunPower was selected based on their reputation, pricing, as well as the 95 percent performance guarantee they provided and their compliance with the "Made in America" regulations. SunPower panels are regarded as the most efficient in the world at converting solar energy to electricity.

Q: Why doesn't the District use the $25 million on other things like improving facilities, or hiring more teachers?

A: The $25 million in Qualified School Construction Bonds (QSCBs) has to be repaid, so it must be spent on a revenue generating project. The funds cannot be used to hire teachers or expand programs; they are intended to help stimulate the economy through job creation within the construction industry.

Q: Why didn't the District wait a few years to see if solar gets less expensive and/or more efficient?

A: This bond was only available for a limited time, and it was doubtful that similar bonds or stimulus funds would be available in the future. Also, currently the PG&E rebates for solar energy are generous and the price of solar panels is relatively low because of the economy. Installation costs have also been falling due to the economic downturn. The district felt this was the opportune time to take advantage of the program as there are no guarantees that this favorable combination will last.

Q: Are there other school districts going solar?

A: Many districts in California are turning to solar energy, including Milpitas, San Jose, San Mateo, San Diego, Los Angeles, Oxnard and Mt. Diablo school districts.

Q: Why did the District choose to place the panels on parking arrays rather than rooftops?

A: A number of the schools' roofs are not oriented well for solar panels. There are also issues about the ages of the roofs and concerns about penetrating the roofs to anchor the solar panels. Parking lot structures have the added benefit of using automated panels that rotate with the sun to maximize exposure, as well as shaded parking and better lighting at night.

Q: How are the systems being maintained, repaired and cleaned?

A: The cost of maintenance and repair, including cleaning, is included in the cost of the contract for seventeen years. In addition to this, SunPower has a 25-year manufacturer's warranty on the panels and a 20-year warranty on inverters.

Q: What if the panels don't generate as much energy as projected? Are there performance guarantees or warranties?

A: SunPower has a performance guarantee in place. If the output of the panels falls below 95% of projected output, SunPower will compensate the District accordingly. SunPower designed systems have typically been averaging 100-105 percent of design capacity.

Q: Other than saving the District money, what are the benefits related to solar energy?

A: The panels provide important environmental benefits like reduction in carbon, sulfur and nitrogen emissions from fossil fuel combustion, and economic benefits by creating jobs that benefit California as well as the local economy.

Q: How confident is the District with the financial projections related to the solar project?

A: The District used very conservative projections, and believes there is an excellent chance that we will exceed the savings projected. We also believe the contract the district entered into will be considered a model for other school districts, and has already been given significant positive attention throughout the state and beyond.

Q: Is the District also looking into other energy conservation strategies?

A: Yes. The District currently budgets $3.3 million annually for electricity. The District is exploring additional strategies including retrofitting with low energy-use bulbs and equipment, implementing centralized set points for heating and cooling, and remote monitoring and control systems. The district is also promoting "conservation as human behavior" as the most significant factor in energy conservation and energy savings.

Q: Is the district looking to expand the project?

A: The district is looking into the possibility of combining the remaining unused QSCB funds (@ $700,000) with the anticipated first-year savings associated with the five operational systems to provide solar at one additional school. Gale Ranch Middle School was originally considered as part of a six-school solar project, and has both the space and sun exposure capacity. The district is exploring this option, but no decision has been made.


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Posted by [removed]
a resident of another community
on Oct 6, 2011 at 6:46 pm

This SRVUSD press release appeared earlier today in the Danville Patch with some very qulifying responses from readers. An industrial solar power generation station as installed at five SRVUSD schools simply does not belong in residential neighborhoods. Large scale industrial superstructure with tracking mechanisms is not appropriate to good neighborhood relationships with each campus. The installation along Danville Blvd at SRVHS appears to be a celebration in memory of the Embarcadero Freeway along the San Francisco Waterfront.

Installations are ugly and only provide humorous review of how SRVUSD made the decision for installation of such industrial power plants. That part seemed to be left out of the SRVUSD press release.

Your journalism needs to provide the answer.

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Posted by Delighted
a resident of Monte Vista High School
on Oct 6, 2011 at 7:41 pm

I'm very happy that the district chose to access these funds and invest in the future by using solar energy for local schools. I do not think that the appearance of these installations detracts from the landscape or neighborhoods nearby. I attended a couple of the board meetings last year and felt that the board members were careful and conservative in making the best decisions possible. I am glad that my children are able to attend school in the SRVUSD. Let the sun shine!

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Posted by Cardinal
a resident of Diablo
on Oct 7, 2011 at 6:16 am

You're delighted and our kids will be lighted for many, many years to come.

And ol' [removed] is still benighted. The beat goes on.

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Posted by George
a resident of Alamo
on Oct 7, 2011 at 6:39 am

An unbelievable waste of taxpayer money. The cost per KWH for this "green" application is many times the cost per KWH as compared to a coal, gas, or nuclear plant. Time for us to utilize our own natural resources to achieve affordable, reliable energy, and quit spending public money on such pipe dreams.

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Posted by Susan
a resident of Danville
on Oct 7, 2011 at 9:43 am

It's a loan, not a "waste" Taxpayers are paid back 100% of the borrowered funds through energy savings that are guaranteed and outlast the payback period. Local installers employed; Sunpower panels are manufactured in Richmond, California, further supporting local employment. Even members of the San Francisco Giants support Sunpower solar, a big Bay Area employer. Net cost per KWH is *zero* and in fact, solar turns a profit through continued lower energy costs once the loan is repaid. Worldwide energy demand could be double in 16 years when this particular loan is repaid due to the growth and change going on in China. It's truly unfortunate, given the relative safety and long-term low cost of solar power, the world can't afford to abandon gas, coal and nuclear, but we need it all.

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Posted by Dan
a resident of Danville
on Oct 7, 2011 at 9:49 am

Congratulations to the school district for completing such an ambitious and forward looking project.

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Posted by psmacintosh
a resident of Danville
on Oct 7, 2011 at 10:49 am

Sounds "nice" on the surface, doesn't it.
However, a 16-year breakeven point is NOT that good at all. That's a LOT of RISK possibilities to incur. Therefore, the project sounds like it was too lucratively (for someone) expensive in the first place with that far out of a break-even point. A 3, 5, 8, maybe even 10 year breakeven point would have been OK.
If this supposedly "green" technology is so good, then let it stand on its own two feet (like any other business) WITHOUT SUBSIDIES. If it's a good idea, see the proof (not estimates) and purchase it. If not, don't.
I really question the LOCATION of the SRV HS panels for the long-term. I'm not convinced that they haven't built those panels right in the way of where they are going to need to do future construction (of drop-off lanes, tennis courts, electrical conduits, drainage systems, lights, etc). Can you imagine how the entire spreadsheet estimations will CHANGE FOR THE WORSE if there has to be any major alteration or re-construction of these panels during the course of their 25 year projection period.
These "estimations" and "projections" are shaky! (This is the type of salesmanship that leads to bilked investors--a la the half-billion dollar Solyndra debacle.)
Ultimately, this is really another case where BIG GOVERNMENT decides to take OUR tax money and spend it on non-governmental (private business) issues. Sure they "justify" it by two nice causes and rationales--to "stimulate" the economy and to create jobs. (Oh, but they choose just one narrow segment of the economy--"green" power and "union" construction jobs--at the competitive detriment to all other segments of industry.
And talk about direct "payoff/payback" to their liberal constituents and liberal powerbase and then the further re-generation of their "empire" of political power and control.
ON THE OTHER HAND, this selfish grabbing is exactly what our current system of Government fosters and encourages in its politicians....and in us. Act on it now and TAKE THE MILLIONS OF DOLLARS OF SUBSIDIES.....or someone else will and the money will be gone. Get in on it........
(It's similar to how the Government "influenced" the general public to stretch themselves too thin in the Real Estate market--by pressuring FANNIE MAE into loosening its underwriting standards--enticing people to buy a house that they couldn't afford by taking an ADJUSTABLE RATE LOAN now (that would blow-up on them in the future). Get in now before the market price goes up too high to ever afford. Get in on the gamble. Get in on the "blind" government subsidies. Get your hand out and grab. Open your hand and let the money fall in. Look the other way. Get in......or else.)
Government is turning us into a pack of Vultures--but, ultimately, feeding upon our collective selves.
Who is going to have the fortitude to stand up to and against (and to eliminate) the $23 million dollar government subsidies that have such nice sounding "causes" and "reasons" behind them. We, the voters, have shown ourselves to be susceptible to being bought off and fooled.
So now, EVERY TIME YOU SEE THESE PANELS remember that we are being bought off and that good governmental values (no subsidies, especially unequal subsidies) are being destroyed!

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Posted by Barb
a resident of Danville
on Oct 7, 2011 at 12:00 pm

What is so ugly about panels over the parking spots at the SRV HS. My company has an office in Texas where much of the parking lot is covered because of the large amount of heat generated by the sun on the ashphalt. I think the panels look great in the parking lot. I pass them every day on my way home. The project is no cost to the district and those funds can eventually be utilized for other needs. The logic I have read in some of these comments is out of left field. They are missing the big picture!

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Posted by Duffy
a resident of Danville
on Oct 7, 2011 at 12:06 pm

It will be interesting to see how long it takes for this boondoggle to be exposed for what it is, hype - more hype - and still more hype!

A 16 year payback plus should be the first clue.

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Posted by Douglas
a resident of Blackhawk
on Oct 7, 2011 at 12:14 pm

Another Solyndra in the making!!

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Posted by Kluge
a resident of Danville
on Oct 7, 2011 at 1:18 pm

Interesting to see the goofy posts about how the installment purchase of a clean energy source which does not require an eternal commitment to buying more gas or coal to burn for every kilowatt consumed, with current installment costs equal to the cost of conventional electricity and which will actually provide free electricity down the road must be "hype", "boondoggle" and the destruction of good government.

Seems like some people are blinded by their ideological agendas.

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Posted by [update]
a resident of another community
on Oct 7, 2011 at 1:57 pm

Dear Editor,

As you update this story in consideration of the commentary in this exchange, there are a sequence of issues to answer:

#1 Does a Sunpower industrial solar power generation station belong in residential neighborhoods?

#2 If Sunpower and its parent, Total, see their future in roof-top installations, then what are the long-term prospects for success of these industrial power generation stations installed at SRVUSD campuses?

#3 Should Sunpower, or other leading solar firms be compared to Solyndra planning, operations and results, and should we expect a vital, global solar industry to be impacted by Solyndra's mismanagement of its invested capitalization?

#4 Much evidence of solar PV alternatives have been discussed based on emerging technologies with little future need for industrial superstructures, tracking mechanisms and power management facilities. Thus what is the future of solar PV during the period of pay back projected for SRVUSD industrial solar power generation stations' operations?

#5 Does SRVUSD have staff experts in installation, operation and maintenance of solar PV power generation?

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Posted by Dan
a resident of Blackhawk
on Oct 7, 2011 at 1:58 pm

Good job SRVUSD ... smart investment!

The teanut moron brigade just does not get it.

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Posted by Douglas
a resident of Blackhawk
on Oct 7, 2011 at 2:47 pm

I have to liken the school board and the purchase of these asinine solar panels to the gadget guy who buys the “latest and greatest” gadget only to find out it has major problems. The gadget guy then spends tons of money trying to fix the problems he would have avoided had he waited until the tried and true version came out. I very much suspect the district will need to put in hundreds of thousands more to fix the problems that will arise with them wanting to get headlines for themselves.

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Posted by Cardinal
a resident of Diablo
on Oct 7, 2011 at 3:52 pm

Solar panels are to SRVUSD as:

(a) gadgets are to problems
(b) hundreds of thousands are to tried and true
(c) problems are to headlines
(d) Doug's posterior is to third base

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Posted by Douglas
a resident of Blackhawk
on Oct 7, 2011 at 4:55 pm

Time will tell how wrong you are!!

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Posted by Sir Frankie Crisp
a resident of Danville
on Oct 9, 2011 at 10:08 pm

Wait until the 15 year olds with learner permits start colliding with the solar poles in the student parking lot. Forgot about that expense as well? ROI after that is around 25 years. What is the useful life of the solar panels btw?

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Posted by Cardinal
a resident of Diablo
on Oct 10, 2011 at 6:39 am

Frankie: have you SEEN those structures? They look like they've been built to withstand The Big One, by which I mean a direct frontal assault by all Douglas' miss-placed predictions, rolled into one!

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Posted by Ben There
a resident of Alamo
on Oct 10, 2011 at 11:10 am

I am all for Solar energy. My only question is why don't we utilize the electicity distribution network that already exists? We should build huge Solar Farms, located in the desert. Load the solar energy into the grid and let ALL taxpayers benefit. Distributing the generation panels throughout our communities is ridiculous. High cost, waste due to redundency, maintenance is going to be a nightmare!
We dig trenches to hide electrical wires and eliminate utility poles. Then we throw it all out the window because PERSONAL solar panels get a tax break.
Now lets talk about Nuclear. Check out the French electrical rates and safety record. Enough said.

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Posted by Mike
a resident of Danville
on Oct 10, 2011 at 11:28 am

Right. We should forget about solar and buy more imported oil from nations that hate us.

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Posted by Jerold Kaplan
a resident of Alamo
on Oct 10, 2011 at 11:45 am

I support the idea of Solar, and am actually considering it for my yhome, but can someone tell me why the panels were not placed on the roof of Monte Vista, or behind or beside the school? Sorry barb, those panels are ugly!

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Posted by sponge_bob_roundpants
a resident of Danville
on Oct 13, 2011 at 7:49 am

you people quack me up. Such ignorance,no wonder the US is going down.
Did you even read that there is a performance guarantee? Do you understand what that is? Do you really think PGE rates will remain the same for the next 20 years? Do you drink Kool-Aid mixed by Jim Jones too?
The biggest issue I see with this install is the tremendous amount of steel used to support the tracker canopy; particularly with the shading in the area in the parking lot where they were installed, and potential growth of the trees around that area over the next 20 years, which will cause even more shading. That steel was expensive - might have been better to install fixed tilt and save money on the support structure.
And to Doug and his 'gadget' comments - there are *real* installations that have been around since the early 80s, still producing energy - there's actually a 1MW field out at Rancho Seco, for your information. You might want to educate yourself a bit before making claims in a public forum, otherwise you look ignorant.

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Posted by Douglas
a resident of Blackhawk
on Oct 14, 2011 at 5:21 pm


I guess it didn't take that long to prove you wrong...

Web Link

Our school district board needs to be called on the carpet for this one!

Like this comment
Posted by Douglas
a resident of Blackhawk
on Oct 14, 2011 at 5:24 pm


You are the one who needs to educate yourself...

Web Link

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Posted by Cardinal
a resident of Diablo
on Oct 14, 2011 at 5:47 pm

Oh, Doogie, you need to go outside and breathe fresh air, and please don't confuse Faux Channel content with anything remotely approaching reliable.

From the Article: The Department of Energy ... says it conducted "months of rigorous technical, financial and legal due diligence" on this project so it met "the requirements of the program -- helping America win the clean energy race and create new industries for American workers."

However, there is A CHANCE that this project will fail, and GUESS WHAT? IF it fails, you and I and the American taxpayer will be on the hook for a $1.2 billion tab...[sheesh]

Doogie -- that passage reminds me of an exchange I had with a girl, in college:

She: "Cardinal, the only way I would sleep with you is if you were the last man on earth"

Me: "So, you mean there's A CHANCE?!"

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

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