District to save money, environment with solar panels

Jefferson Union High School District will soon become the first in the county to go solar.

In an innovative effort to save money and teach students about the environment, the district plans to install solar panels on the roofs of all its schools.

The district board of trustees approved a 20-year deal with a private solar energy provider, UPC Solar. The deal would require no investment by the district and will save more than $3 million in energy costs over the next two decades, district Superintendent Mike Crilly said.

“It’s the first large-scale solar project covering all school buildings in a district in San Mateo County,” he said. “It has the potential to save money over time and also puts our students in touch with the way things are going to be in the future and sets up a pretty good example.”

Crilly explained that the district had been looking into green technologies and found that a “power purchase agreement” may be the best solution.

Instead of purchasing and maintaining its own solar-panel system, a power purchase agreement allows the district to buy energy produced on its roofs. The solar system is owned and maintained by a solar provider, which can take advantage of certain green-technology tax benefits, said John Kerastas of Chicago-based UPC Solar.

Power purchase agreements are used by nonprofits that can’t afford to buy their own systems and can’t take advantage of tax benefits available to businesses that pay taxes.

“We find that secondary schools tend to be leaders because many schools want to do something nice for the environment and save money,” Kerastas said.

Construction may begin in the summer and will coincide with other renovation work done at schools in Daly City and Pacifica. Crilly said the schools will use the solar panels to teach students about the environment. The panels are expected to produce enough energy to power the schools even on the coast’s foggy days, according to Crilly. Energy produced while school is out will go back to the grid and then be used as an energy credit during peak hours. When panels don’t produce enough energy, the district may still buy some from Pacific Gas & Electric Company.

Buying solar power will cost the district less than what it pays PG&E, said Kerastas. The district paid $131,000 in energy costs for Westmoor High School in 2006. If the school was equipped with solar panels, that price tag would have been $116,000, according to school officials.

svasilyuk@examiner.com

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