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Trustees OK negotiations for solar energy

Original post made on Mar 24, 2010

The School Board authorized district staff to enter into negotiations with a vendor to add solar panels at six campuses, tonight at their regular meeting, after a special committee spent months studying both solar energy and the 11 vendors who submitted proposals.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Tuesday, March 23, 2010, 11:53 PM

Comments (18)

Posted by David Jacobs
a resident of Monte Vista High School
on Mar 24, 2010 at 2:11 am

I applaud our District leaders for taking this significant step towards one way to save money and in a "green" way. I'm also glad to hear the money from the stimulus is supposed to be spent on American made products. I looked up SunPower and I noticed their manufacturing operations are in the Phillipines and found none in the U.S. Can someone shed some light on this and, per the article, what do they mean by they certified they are American made?

Posted by David Jacobs
a resident of Monte Vista High School
on Mar 24, 2010 at 2:40 am

I answered my own question, they don't make anything in America. How do they comply with American made provisions? Here's where I read this Web Link

Can someone explain what a certification is and how that works?

Posted by Parent
a resident of Danville
on Mar 24, 2010 at 6:53 am

What an innovative and intelligent way to address our district budget crisis: looking to reduce our energy bills rather than just cutting teachers and staff and their benefits. The committee member from the NASA facilities department reported that the funding for solar for our school district is even better than the deal that NASA is getting; we truly shouldn't pass up this opportunity, and that his NASA manager said he'd go for it in a second. I also applaud our district leaders for researching this project so thoroughly and for moving forward.

Posted by Marc Rubcich
a resident of Walnut Creek
on Mar 24, 2010 at 8:05 am

If they really wanted to be innovative.....they could have entered into a Power Purchase Agreement. In that scenario, the school would only be obligated to pay for the power that the system produced, at a rate lower than their current utility is charging. No up front costs, no bonds, no 20 year payback. They wouldn't own the they wouldn't have to worry about maintenance, theft, etc.

Posted by Photon
a resident of Danville
on Mar 24, 2010 at 8:10 am

A vote for UGLY. Why not put these panels underground where they can't be seen?

Posted by Observer
a resident of Danville
on Mar 24, 2010 at 10:13 pm

Another wasteful, inefficient "project." It is well-known that this type solar installation are inefficient and uneconomic. They could never operate in the free marked economy as no ne would buy expensive power if it were priced at true costs plus a rate of return in absence of government subsidies.
It is too bad that newsmedia such as Danville Express cannot present a true story and an economic evaluation showing how ineffective and wasteful this operation will be.
By the way -- how long do you think the solar panels will last and how much energy is required to manufacture them?
Bear this in mind when yu are next asked to vote on yet another parcel tax. Like "Measure S" [for Soloar of course, not stupid].

Posted by Andrew Gardner
a resident of San Ramon Valley High School
on Mar 24, 2010 at 10:39 pm

I applaud the School Board for making this right decision! So many school districts in the bay area are heading in this direction. San Jose, Fremont, Union City, and Mt. Diablo to name a few.

This is an example of the inevitable transition in our society. As long as the free market works, people will continue to see the environmental and economic benefits of reducing energy costs by using sustainable power sources like solar panels.

In the long run, this decision will help our district retain money for student programs and teacher payrolls when the budgets constrict again.

Posted by George Mirande
a resident of Los Cerros Middle School
on Mar 25, 2010 at 12:33 am

Solar energy panels come from different vendors and manufacturers (brands) and on the web pages of these you can only find the models they offer. In order to compare them one needs to search through the whole internet. Here is a website offering absolutely free database of all commercially available solar panels with functionality to search and sort by different data parameters:

Posted by Julia
a resident of Alamo
on Mar 25, 2010 at 11:15 am

Listen to the dreamers and tree lover's....Major waste of taxpayer money to only get that goody feeling. In 5 years you may wake up.

Posted by Bainter the Painter
a resident of Alamo
on Mar 25, 2010 at 11:22 am

To Mr. Photon, I think that the panels can not be put underground. There is no sun lite under the ground, so they won't work good. They have to be not under the ground to work good because that is were the sun light is. Know one listens to me. That's ok.

Posted by An Actual Solar Engineer
a resident of another community
on Mar 25, 2010 at 9:00 pm

The panels themselves are made overseas, but the subassemblies, structural steel, fasteners, wires, cables, conduit, switchgear, etc can be sourced domestically. In addition, the installation is performed by local electricians after local builders erect the structures. The Buy American provision does not stipulate that 100% of materials must be made in the US (if that were the case it would be next to impossible to achieve).

This article also neglects to mention the added benefit of shaded parking. Difficult to monetize, but valuable nonetheless.

Posted by F.Olivas
a resident of Monte Vista High School
on Mar 26, 2010 at 6:43 am

If, repeating, if this works, so much the better.

However, there must be some reason that no official comment has been made about the hidden costs be that administrators or board members. If things go wrong, they walk and the taxpayers keep paying no matter what.

So, it appears from the postings and comments from the superintendent, board members, that if the deal is so fantastic(price to buy), then the deal must be all the more fantastic.

But did any official comment on the hidden costs. A student did.

What life do these panels have? How long would a panel be out of commission due to replacement? What would be the replacement costs involved down the road? Who wold pay for the replacement? Who maintains them? Who pays for the maintenance? Where does the money come from AFTER the grant/loan from public agencies? What security do they have or is it nominal for public acceptance(money of pocket)? How long would a panel be out of function if in need of repair? What makes up the loss of power due to required maintenance? Added utility costs from utility company?

Just a few hidden costs/questions for public consideration if not the officials!!

F. Olivas

Posted by Duffy
a resident of Danville
on Mar 26, 2010 at 8:37 am

.... and what will be the pay-back period on this multi-million dollar boondoggle?

Posted by Ralph N. Shirlet
a resident of another community
on Mar 26, 2010 at 11:59 am

Ralph N. Shirlet is a registered user.

REF: Web Link and Web Link

Analysis at NREL aims to increase the understanding of the current and future interactions and roles of energy policies, markets, resources, technologies, environmental impacts, and infrastructure. These analyses are used to inform decisions as energy-efficient and renewable energy technologies advance from concept to commercial application.

National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL)
1617 Cole Blvd.
Golden, CO 80401-3305
Main Phone Number
(303) 275-3000

Posted by F.Olivas
a resident of Monte Vista High School
on Mar 31, 2010 at 7:06 am

This is wonderful, all solar panels will save money and "The expectation is that the solar panels and associated expenses will pay for themselves by saving energy costs". Quoted from article above dated March 23. Notice the word EXPECTATION.

So lets just say the panels are there and just one needs to replaced.
What will just one cost the district 15 years out out of its general funds? What would just one of these panels cost today to have an idea of real costs down the road?

"Seed money" is provided for a kick start ONLY!!!!!! There is no money for replacement despite what savings occur.

It seems as if this money will just sit somewhere waiting for that moment, years down the road to replace or fix solar panels!!! Has anyone ever seen this happen? This money often goes somewhere else just because it is there and the district has to pay for it long after those in charge who approved the mammoth costs have gone. No school board member or superintendent will be here down the road. THE HIDDEN COSTS WILL BE!!

So those hidden costs surface, people become annoyed again with school personnel and the argument recycles itself with the focus of annoyance placed on teachers.

We do love to recycle school disapproval and here comes a mammoth one.

Recall that many school programs obtain seed money and the district is left with the funding down the road. Generating electricity for free is not even in the cards if you want to be practical about it. So the seed money seems free but the HIDDEN COSTS will be mammoth down the road.

Quoting Mr. Golub(attorney in energy law) "Another committee member, Howard Golub, an attorney in the field of energy law, said he felt the financial estimates were on the conservative side"(from newspaper article and school committee member). I am are not sure if this refers to money saved or costs to be incurred or both.

There are many ways to reduce utility costs at each district level and school site with effort, energy, focus but this is to be done at the highest levels of administration who are paid to do this or should do.

What do you care to pay for down the road?

Respectfully Submitted,
F. Olivas

Posted by Independent Solar Consultant
a resident of Danville
on Apr 4, 2010 at 8:18 pm

As quoted above "The Buy American provision does not stipulate that 100% of materials must be made in the US (if that were the case it would be next to impossible to achieve).
WRONG. There are products almost 100% built in the USA (SolarWorld USA, 98.5% US materials and manufacturing).
Why are we supporting a manufacturer that is 100% overseas made?
We can support a US Company that is based in California, support their schools and their tax base, support our fellow citizens. Their bid was "shortlisted" but denied.
Going with a foreign dominated company is WRONG in this time and place.
These projects ARE economically beneficial. However, did all the companies that bid on this project respond to exact guidance on how to bid, or did some get creative in the paybacks in order to win the award. I am calling foul until I know otherwise.

Posted by Al
a resident of San Ramon
on Apr 5, 2010 at 11:15 am

Sun Power panel are manufactured in the Philippines, period. An even more important thing is that Sun Power Solar Panels differ from ALL other manufactures, not for the better, and when this single source company is out of business later the whole system becomes obsolete, money down the drain.
Also the idea of Solar is popular now but financially it does NOT make any sense. Why not spend some of the money in energy conservation. i.e. install sky lights in the gym building to reduce the high energy consumed by all the lighting, just like all industrial for profit companies do. And many other small projects that yield much better return on investment.
At last if solar is a must why not support all the small solar companies in our community instead of a quasi foreign company.

Posted by Jack Fulcher
a resident of Danville
on Apr 15, 2010 at 3:59 pm

I am disappointed by this short-sighted decision of the school district members. As someone who has been involved in the solar electric generation sector since the early 1970s, I can tell you that this project is a serious waste of our money and resources. I have the following quick points to make (need to get back to work):

1. TREES!!! If you value trees, this project will disgust you. I see nothing in the above article, but in order to install these panels trees will need to be cut, both in the parking lots and in nearby areas like the Iron Horse Trail. Trees interfere with the sun, as we all know, and the District says they have to go.

2. Maintenance and replacement costs are grossly underestimated. Look at the spreadsheet the District put on its website last year to justify this investment (they posted it in PDF format, so you'll have to enter it in Excel by hand like I did, but it's not too hard). They assume that, once the contract with the panel installer has expired in 10 years, maintenance on all of these facilities will cost only $80,000 per year. With overheads, that's one person (or less). These things have to be washed off regularly (think of the additional water used) and devices like the inverters need to be replaced often. The panels crack easily from birds and, if you've ever been to high school, they will be damaged by some of the kids. This maintenance estimate cannot possibly cover the washing, let alone these sorts of problems.

3. When the installer goes out of business in a few years (it is, after all, a small business), we will all be on the hook for the maintenance costs.

4. Look at that spreadsheet. The District assumes that it will save about 18.5 cents per killowatt-hour generated by these panels. This allows them to project a gain to the District of $2 million after 10 years. I work for the Public Utilities Commission - there is absolutely no tariff the District can be using today that is high as 18.5 cents. Any tariff the District is using today is at about 11 or 12 cents. (Check this our yourself - PG&E's tariffs are on their website.) If this savings assumption is adjusted for this reality, these panels actually lose us more than $2 million after 10 years of use.

5. These panels are dangerous, especially during the day. A kid who climbs up on one and touches it will get an electic jolt that will knock him or her onto the blacktop. Where's the additional liability recognized in these cost estimates?

6. There are much better ways to spend this money, such as weatherizing or replacing the Kezar Stadium lights at SRV High.

Maybe this is too late - I know a lot of people, including the unnamed "solar consultant," have a strong financial interest in seeing this project approved. But if you are concerned about any of these issues (I haven't even brought up the likely effect on property values by these ugly things), please tell the District or whomever you need to tell to stop this or slow it down to discuss it more thoroughly. If you want to communicate: [email protected]

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