Anyone driving past the high school or grade school possibly wondered what was up with the new structures springing up in the various parking lots over the past few months. Anyone who guessed parking structure is only half right—perhaps not even half right.
The structures serve a dual purpose: They do serve as parking structures or car ports, but more importantly, the structures are host to a slew of solar panels on their respective roofs. These solar panels forever change the future of power consumption for the school district.
The solar project is essentially the brain child of Mineral County School District Superintendent Chris Schultz. “I saw in the newspaper that Nevada Energy was providing rebates for solar projects. I had done a solar project in a previous district in a similar fashion,” Schultz said.
Schultz sent the school district’s finance manager, Patricia Stoddard, to NV Energy to look into the matter, and she came back with a rebate offer of $3.10 per kilowatt as a rebate. With about a week left before the offer expired, Schultz and Stoddard put together a proposal that NV Energy accepted.
As the school district sought proposals from different solar companies, Schulz asked Stoddard to pursue a “power purchase” agreement. A simple explanation is that the agreement stipulates that the school simply purchases the power from the solar company, which owns and maintains the equipment involved.
Schultz said without the power purchase agreement, the school would find itself responsible for maintenance, and the cost of having a full-time maintenance person would offset the solar power savings.
Stoddard, with some input from Schulz, developed a 65-page request for proposal to offer to several different solar companies. “Patricia just hangs in there, she got it done and got it out,” Schulz said.
About 10 companies expressed interest and toured the school district property. Three respondents showed interest. The district selected Solar City, headquartered in San Mateo, Ca. as its provider.
“They’re a very young company, but they’ve grown very fast because they’re very good. Solar City’s proposal was phenomenal; they covered every aspect of that 65-page RFP,” Schultz said.
Schultz had Stoddard look into Solar City’s references, including those not in the company’s promotional materials, and found no complaints from customers. Schultz also said Solar City found additional rebates to offset project costs. “They’ve been a great partner,” Schultz said.
The solar structures cost slightly over $4 per kilowatt. With the $3.10 rebates and additional tax breaks for the power purchase agreement, Solar City built the structure practically for free. Solar City passed on the savings to the district.
Solar City offered the district a guaranteed 2 cents per kilowatt hour purchase deal for 20 years with two 5-year renewal options. Schultz said the district currently pays NV Energy about 11 cents per kilowatt hour. Schultz emphasized the rate is guaranteed for 20 and possibly years, regardless if NV Energy raises their rates.
“This is a huge, huge win. I’ve never even heard of anyone paying less than 4 cents PKH. Even if energy costs don’t go up over the next 30 years, we’ll still save about $1.2 million over present costs,” Schultz said.
The solar panels will provide about 95 per cent of the school’s energy. The school will only pay actual hookup fees. Schultz also said if the panels produce more energy than the schools use, in summertime for example, the school gets energy credits with NV Energy, thus further lowering costs.
“It’s a great deal,” Schultz said.
As an added benefit to the school, if the panels malfunction and the school is forced to pay the 11 cents PKH rate to NV Energy, Solar City must pay the difference. “It pays for Solar City to keep them running,” Schultz said.
Solar City presented the district with three options for solar panel installation, although in reality, only one was feasible. The school roofs were not built to take the added stress of solar panels, and the school didn’t have room for a solar field. The parking structure was the only viable option.
The parking structure option also had the added benefits of providing covered parking for vehicles, something unavailable previously rather than before.
Hawthorne Elementary School Principal, Stephanie Keuhey, whose school houses two of the structures, expressed great enthusiasm for the project. “Aesthetically, I think it makes the campus look more attractive. We got to pick the school colors for the structures, and the kids are very excited about it.”
Mineral County High School Principal, Mike Domagala, showed equal enthusiasm. “I’m pretty excited about it. We’re really looking forward to seeing what they’ll do.”
Schultz had high praise for Solar City: “Solar City is the most professional company I’ve ever worked with. They know their job, and they take responsibility for everything.
Schultz particularly had praiseworthy words for Patricia Stoddard. “She learned a ton and did a phenomenal job. We couldn’t have done this without her.”
Each person involved in the project noted Solar city’s great professionalism and ability to get the job done with little disturbance as possible to the education process.
“It’s as strong a deal as I’ve ever seen. This project was a home run, and as far as home runs go, this one went over the grandstands and into the street,” Schultz concluded.