By Steve Marschke
When local school board members approved plans for the new River City High School campus in Southport, they were thinking about solar power, but not ready to commit. So they told architects to make sure the school’s roofs would be solar panel-ready, in case solar power became feasible.
As it turns out, the roofs won’t see any photovoltaic panels – at least, not anytime soon. But the campus’s south field will soon sprout a whole bunch of them.
“The best place for solar panels turned out to be a ground-mounted solar array,” said Matt Stegman, a trustee of the Washington Unified School District. “We have the acreage that can’t be used for anything else, so it all worked out perfectly.”
Stegman talked to the News-Ledger about the new solar array in July.
The district has landed about $8 million from federal bonds, administered by the state, he said. WUSD has decided to put that into the River City High solar project and various other energy efficiency measures, including special roof coatings.
“We issue the bonds,” said Stegman. “We get savings from the solar. Instead of our money going to PG&E, the money goes into a bank account. We pay off the bondholders in 16 years. Homeowners don’t pay a dime.”
“I believe it’s about 95 percent of the electricity for River City that will now come from the solar,” he added. “The idea that we’re going to produce our own electricity and save almost $5 million is fantastic.”
With other energy savings created at the campus, total savings at the campus is expected to reach about $9 million over 25 years.
The panels will be built and maintained by a private firm, operating under a contract with “performance guarantees,” said Stegman.
Where did the whole idea come from?
“About two years ago, I had been going on my own to the Yolo County climate change meetings,” he said. “I had been asking the district to take a look at solar – we would be saving money, doing something for the earth and setting the right example for the children.
“A year ago, I learned of the (bond) opportunity – we could borrow the money at almost zero interest rate, and other districts doing this had a positive cash flow. I was able to convince district leadership to put in an application for these bonds.”