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District experiencing benefits of solar energy program

When the Lake Havasu Unified School District decided in 2009 to install solar panels at its administrative office and high school campus the hope was that not only would they generate electricity, but a cost benefit as well.

An audit of the solar program shows that since 2015, there has been an annual cost savings of approximately $13,000.

Rick Romain, consulting engineer of Technology Coordinators, Inc., the contractor in charge of the project, said the solar program has met many of the objectives set out from the beginning.

“When this project was conceived we had several primary objectives,” Romain said. “First was to reduce electrical expenditures. That was such a high priority that if we didn’t achieve it we didn’t really want to look at the rest.”

The other objectives included establishing a predictable budget to avoid utility rate fluctuations, develop an educational opportunity for students and the community to learn about a blossoming energy delivery system and to contribute to a cleaner environment.

First off, the approach Technology Coordinators took was budget neutral, because of the deepening recession.

“The other thing that was unique was … we used solar itself to qualify for a rate plan that wouldn’t otherwise exist,” Romain said. “We doubled the value of solar from six to 12 cents.”

Technology Coordinators recently completed two years of cost saving audits dating to 2015.

“Under the program, we sold the renewable energy credits back to UniSource Energy,” Romain said. “They offered many of their customers the ability to reclaim those credits. In our case we sold every kilowatt hour the system produced and the utility paid us 6.4 cents. For every kilowatt hour we didn’t use they give us a credit.”

The cost during 2015-16 to run the solar system was $71,000 compared to the $85,000 for the traditional energy delivery system.

Because UniSource doesn’t allow credits to rollover each year, every October the utility buys back outstanding credits.

During 2015-16, the credit buyback program benefited the school district by approximately $115,000.

The attempt, Romain said, is for the program to break even and any additional savings used to pay off the equipment within 17 years.

“The good news is it’s doing exactly what we said it was going to do … it’s going to continue to do that,” Romain said. “There’s no reason not to expect that.”

When the district owns the equipment it will be generating approximately $90 000 in credits annually that can be put back into the general budget.

If we continue on with the current rate of $12,000 to $15,000 every year, instead of going out 17 years (for equipment payoff), by the time we hit year 15 we will have enough to pre-pay payments and start receiving a larger windfall,” Romain said. “For the remainder of the project we will start putting $100,000 in the bank every year, well not in the bank but avoid paying electrical utility costs.”

At the end of the solar project’s lifespan, there are anticipated equipment replacement costs to maintain its efficiency, but even factoring in those costs it will still offer a tremendous return on investment, Romain added.

“We are not writing the checks anymore to UniSource,” he said. “We are not creating any new money that never existed, but (the district) doesn’t have to spend $85,000 on electric that it used to.”


by David Louis, Today's News-Herald*
Jan 29, 2018

*used with permission

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