School District Switches to Solar

Solar cost savings, which drove district’s decision, face threat at PUC hearings.

by Eric Johnson

Oct. 16, 2015—The Temecula Valley School District in Riverside County announced last week that it is switching 19 of its 32 schools to solar power. SolarCity will be installing 18 solar carports and two ground-mount solar arrays across the district, and energy storage systems will be deployed at five of the project sites.

Janet Dixon, the school district’s director of facilities development, said the decision was largely about saving money.

“Like many schools districts across the county, Temecula Valley has faced increasing budget cuts and rising operational expenses,” Dixon said. The decision to switch to solar was “a creative way to cut our electricity bills.

“This money will free up funds for the district to invest in student programs and curriculum.”

The project, which requires no cash investment, is expected to save the district more than $520,000 within the first year of operation, and $35 million over 25 years.

The clean-energy systems will also keep almost 100,000 metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions out of the atmosphere over their lifetime, and save approximately four billion gallons of water.

SolarCity, the nation’s largest and fastest-growing solar provider, installs residential and commercial energy systems at no initial cost to the homeowners or businesses, and promises that power bills will be lower than what they were paying utilities. Often the savings can be as dramatic as those the Temecula School District will see.

Solar Savings Under Attack

In a press release, SolarCity points out that the school district will benefit from the practice of “net metering,” which allows rooftop solar users to sell excess energy back to the grid.

“Temecula Valley Schools are an example of taxpayer-funded California institutions which benefit from net metering, a cornerstone policy which allows them to control energy costs and protect school budgets,” the press statement reads.

As it happens, net metering—and the rooftop solar industry—are currently facing a threat. The California Public Utilities Commission began hearings last week on a series of proposals, from utilities including PG&E and Southern California Edison, that would cut the rates utilities pay solar providers in half.

According to the Los Angeles Times, “the utility proposals could wipe out the potential savings on power—the main incentive for buying the systems.”

The Times quotes SolarCity co-founder Lyndon Rive, who describes a "catastrophic" future for rooftop solar if the proposals are approved. He and others point out that the cuts, as well as proposed monthly fees that solar users would be required to pay to the utilities, could make solar power unaffordable, “which is exactly what utilities want.”
"This is a clear indication that the utilities are trying to stop competition and the solar industry," Rive says.
The PUC has until the end of the year to decide on the proposals.

Follow this link to find out how you can switch to solar immediately.