School District Invests in Green Economy

Santa Cruz City Schools’ historic solar power purchase agreement will eventually result in a 90% cut in the district electricity consumption.

Live display of Soquel High Solar Production  

KSBW News Coverage with video

Santa Cruz Sentinel

 

Construction begins on county's largest solar power project

J.M. BROWN - SENTINEL STAFF WRITER

 

 SOQUEL -- Construction of the county's largest solar project began Wednesday as crews lifted the first of 1,800 solar panels to the top of Soquel High School, where 40 percent of the campus' electricity will be generated by the sun.

"We're educating the next stewards of Earth," said Cynthia Hawthorne, president of the Santa Cruz City Schools board, also noting that a local company, Sandbar, is installing the panels. "In this economic climate, we're creating green jobs."

The addition of the panels to five buildings at the Soquel High campus is expected to be done next month, and the panels should generate power by the end of January. The district intends to add panels to all of its school sites, which is predicted will save $100,000 per year in electrical costs and 1 million pounds of carbon once completed.

But financing for the remaining sites is up in the air.

The district's Solar Committee recently declined to accept changes Morgan Stanley wanted in its contract to front the costs for equipping four of the sites -- Santa Cruz High, Branciforte Middle, Bay View Elementary and Westlake Elementary.

Dick Moss, the district's assistant superintendent for business services, said the finance giant wanted the district to assume insurance liability on the equipment and drop requirements that contract workers be paid a prevailing wage.

SolarCity, the Foster City firm that will own and manage the panels at the four schools, is looking for new investors for the project, as are committee members.

"I'm very confident we're going to do it," Hawthorne said.

The district expects to reduce its consumption from the state power grid by at least 75 percent overall by the time all of the panels are in place. Solar firms, who get renewable energy tax credits, charge the district less than PG&E, but Moss said the real benefit will be the cutback in use of fossil fuel energy.

MP2 Capital of San Rafael is the solar provider for the Soquel High project only, and will charge the district 12 cents per kilowatt hour. PG&E will continue to charge 15 cents for the percentage of its power used by the school.

Federal tax credits for solar energy were due to expire in December but were renewed for eight years as part of the $700 billion bail out bill passed by Congress for the nation's financial system.