Town Square

District signs on with SunPower for school solar installation

Original post made on May 26, 2010

After a fairly lengthy discussion Tuesday night, San Ramon Valley Unified School District board members voted to approve an agreement that would have solar panels installed at six district schools. The unanimous decision awarded SunPower Corp. the $23.2-million contract, with the expectation that they would be functioning by the start of the 2011-12 school year.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Tuesday, May 25, 2010, 11:45 PM


Posted by Ralph N. Shirlet
a resident of another community
on May 26, 2010 at 6:55 am

Ralph N. Shirlet is a registered user.

Dear Emily,

Let us review what is missing from your story.

Sunpower was selected without any disclosure of other suppliers and technologies considered. Sunpower is older technology, as crystalline, that has existed for decades and is being replaced with lighter, more efficient thin film technology suitable for installation on existing buildings. As a result, carports are going to be built as additional construction costs and create objections among the communities surrounding the sites.

Once again, SRVUSD has acted without consideration of the stakeholders, as district residents, and adopted a plan that will further alienate district residents from willing support. In the case of Monte Vista High School, the carport violates a promise made by board members that no structures would be built in Alamo and only parking lots and playing fields would result.

There was much more to tell in your story, Emily, and more honesty needed from SRVUSD board and administration.

Of Ralph dismayed

Posted by LC
a resident of Monte Vista High School
on May 26, 2010 at 6:56 am

Congratulations to our district for moving forward on this project that will save money for our schools, reduce our dependence on foreign (and domestic!) oil, create local jobs, and help stimulate our United States clean energy industries. The district created a solar advisory panel, and no matter how they tried, they could not poke holes in the excellent financing of this project. Historically, PG&E rates have climbed 3%/year over the past 25 years, and close to 5%/year over the past 40 years. Even if the economic consultants plug in a 0% PG&E escalation rate (which everyone agreed was highly unlikely), the project pencils out!
The agreement with Sunpower includes maintenance and a guarantee of the solar panel performance, and I am confident that our district officials and School Board members have done their due diligence to make sure that this project will save money for our schools. They have been conservative and cautious, and they came to the conclusion that to NOT go forward with the project was the riskiest choice.
This is a bright moment in what has otherwise been a bleak budgetary year for our schools.

Posted by Fiscally conservative parent
a resident of Alamo
on May 26, 2010 at 7:23 am

Thank you, Ralph, for your thoughtful comments. I have closely followed the SRVUSD Board and district actions. They invited bids from all suppliers and considered all technologies. The solar advisory panel for the district included engineers, an attorney specializing in energy law, someone from NASA facilities (who concluded that this deal and this technology was better than what NASA was getting), concerned members of the district and of our parent communities. They have sent letters to neighbors of all six schools considered for the project, inviting their input. It is not true that they have acted without consideration of the stakeholders. Quite the contrary, this is a win-win project that generates energy to our schools that is cheaper than what the district would pay to PG&E.
As one of our Board members said, some people said we should wait because solar technology will improve in the future. Those same people may still be waiting to buy their first computer, because computer technology is always improving. Another Board member said that the stars are aligned for us right now with federal stimulus money, excellent PG&E rebates, low construction costs, and proven solar technology with performance guarantees. I think the district has acted prudently, intelligently, and in the best interest of their stakeholders.

Posted by Perplexed
a resident of Danville
on May 26, 2010 at 8:46 am


Which thin film technologies are more efficient than crystalline silicon? (hint: they are not) How do they perform over time? (hint: most deteriorate, not so for crystalline silicon) How much lighter are these new emerging panels than the tried and proven traditional technology? (hint: not much since most of the weight is in the module and balance of sysem) Either way, you have to construct a superstructure to mount your panels on to withstand winds. Why rooftops are preferred to carports is perplexing. With a parking lot, you roll it in and set it up. With rooftops, you have to crane everything up and then assemble in place -- more cost and disruption working around existing building infrastructure on the roof.

You raise some legitimate concerns but state them like you know all of the answers. Please be honest about what you know vs. what you are concerned about. This will make us all better informed.

Posted by Concerned resident
a resident of Danville
on May 26, 2010 at 12:02 pm

SRVUSD is swayed by the 'potential' savings, but is doing little to reduce costs in easier ways. The amount the district pays monthly for Hazardous waste removal (instead of using greener products), processed foods for our kids and service supplies is appalling. For an educated area, we certainly don't have school officials learning new 'tricks' from peers within Contra Costa and the rest of the Bay Area!

Posted by Ralph N. Shirlet
a resident of another community
on May 26, 2010 at 2:19 pm

Dear Emily,

The great joy of exchanges on the EXPRESS Forum is they are so distracting. With a smile I shall refocus commentary, and hopefully your continued journalism, by pointing to the community issues of SRVUSD's installations rather than the technology choices.

First issue is carports to support the very heavy crystalline panels violate a promise by a previous SRVUSD board to have no structures built in Alamo at MVHS.

Second issue is neighborhoods, meaning the majority of residents, were not contacted by SRVUSD and only a few friendly contacts were made in surrounding neighborhoods.

Third issue is there was no detailed public disclosure of technology and installation choices by SRVUSD via their own website, public meetings or media.

The issue is TRUST in SRVUSD for our corridor neighborhoods.

Ralph without ROFL

Notice: To fairly answer one question raised. I have been involved in solar photovoltaic, thermal generation and alternative energy technologies and commercialization for 15 years. My current focus is flexible thermal active polymers with integrated photovoltaics for direct application to complex surfaces and similar batteries capabilities using flexible polymer and thin film technologies. Note that NDAs apply.

Posted by member
a resident of Alamo
on May 26, 2010 at 2:50 pm

Even more outrageous than increasing our debt load at this time is what was left out of the article, four more school days lost. Two "holidays", friday before presidents day and labor day as well as two new teacher "work days". I will not donate another dime to SRVUSD for "class reduction campaigns" until they reign in the teacher union.

Posted by Julia
a resident of Alamo
on May 26, 2010 at 6:35 pm

More Waste, More Waste and More Waste...this is just another Al Gore BS story. In 5 to 7 years the same wonderful, intelligent folks that voted for alternative energy will be paying a demo crew to remove the junk on the roofs and maybe the rotting roof also and go back to that old PG&E power. I know, it's so wonderful to have the sun in the heavens give us all that free energy. You people all sound like the recycling dreamers.

What a sad, simple bunch we are to believe all this BS.

Thanks for listening...Julia from Alamo

Posted by Ralph N. Shirlet
a resident of another community
on May 26, 2010 at 7:11 pm

Dear Emily,

We have exhausted intelligent consideration of solar energy which is growing in volume in global grids but suffering ignorant denial in USAmerica. To the point, SRVUSD is like most Solar PV installations in avoiding public scrutiny while creating a significant change in our energy sources. Quite simply, no matter what technology, solar, thermal conversion, alternative fuels and more have claimed greater than 20% of energy source in North America and is growing geometrically.

Even PG&E has quietly exceeded 20% in alternative source generation and will likely have a distributed grid of solar and similar in the next 10 years that will exceed 35% of their power generation.

You have proven yourself a journalist and WRITER today, so write this story, Wordsmith!! WE want you to fully display your obvious talent.

Ralph without ROFL

Posted by Scott Wayland
a resident of San Ramon
on May 27, 2010 at 7:41 am

Dear Ralph and all readers,

I would recomend knowing what you are talking about before being critical. I am a mechanical engineer and let me give you the facts about some of the technolopgy and to substantiate some of the other comments.

First of all, monosilicon Photovoltiacs, the technology that SunPower is manufacturing most of their panels with, actually is one of the highest efficient products you will find in the market. Contrary to what wast stated, thin film is less efficient, about 1/3 the performance of the best. Thin film is about $/watt, not watt/square foot.

For DG, it's clearly best to go with one of the highest performing products, and that is exactly what the district has done.

SRVSD gets my professional and community approval.

And the best thing about the parking structure installations is it leaves the roofs available for Solar Thermal for when retrofit the schools to deliver Air Conditioning and Heating from Solar Thermal.

Good Job SRVSD!

Posted by CDSI Research Fellowship
a resident of another community
on May 27, 2010 at 8:52 am

Dear Emily,

As your pseudonyms continue discussion, Scott Wayland brings you the potential for expertise in continuing your coverage of SRVUSD's solar PV installation. You will find Scott on

The issues being considered among corridor neighbors revolve around the creation of a carport structure to support the very heavy crystalline panels. SRVUSD is violating the promise of a previous board by adding a structure in Alamo at MVHS.

The answer is technology that is lighter weight and more conformal to roof surfaces with lower cost of installation. The many forms of thin film technologies on thin metal or polymer substrates can perform efficiently and provide the equal or better results to Sunpower's product.

Scott could provide you review of the many resources CDSI Research has provided such as, SEMI PV group and various advanced commercialization programs. What specifically needs to be addressed is how does our corridor's neighborhoods avoid installation of carports unwanted by a majority of district residents.

Ask Scott for commentary and story support,


Posted by Jim
a resident of Danville
on May 27, 2010 at 2:50 pm

This is a total waste of money and the SRVUSD is not transparent in their dealings in this project, period. I can see that they will come to us again for money.
It is very questionable that the cost will ever be recouped. Another issue is that SunPower panels are different from the norm for no good reason, they are single source panels and inverters and NOT made in the US.
I am questioning this whole process. And BTW SunPower offers DISCOUNTS for ALL employees of their customers for the purchase of Solar System for the own residences, in another word ALL SRVUSD employees are eligible for DISCOUNTS, I guess some will get deeper DISCOUNTS.
Watching a broken system at work again.

Posted by Mark Becker
a resident of Danville
on May 27, 2010 at 3:39 pm

For the record, I believe in the intent of this project.
I stand NOTHING to gain from whomever it is awarded to except confidence that the proper choice would advantage our local workers and create jobs in the local area.
It seems the school district, nor the trustees haven't the courtesy to the community they serve to ensure a big company like Sunpower actually hires local workers.
This is called dis-service to the community.
Sunpower has proprietary equipment.
They manufacture their equipment (100% overseas) to a different electric standard than EVERY other solar manufacturer.
Other manufacturers equipment IS NOT COMPATIBLE with Sunpower.
Should Sunpower go the direction of Enron, Pan Am, Lehman Brothers, we will have a multi million dollar solar system that is an orphan, who's only parent "died" with Sunpowers bankuptcy.
Many are curious why the school system would risk the districts finances with such a gamble.
Sunpower is a strong company, at this moment.
This project is a 25 year commitment, and the SRVUSD board has decided that our childrens future and the taxpayers money is worth the minimal advantage the Sunpower proposal had over the competitors.
One specific member of the SRVUSD Facilities LIED to me and another concerned citizen about the location of manufacture of the products, when he knew all along what the Sunpower rep stated in the article above. Shame on you.
My question; why would the powers that be decide that this contract is so important that misinformation and lies are necessary to get this contract to proceed?

Posted by Jim
a resident of Danville
on May 27, 2010 at 4:03 pm

<bold>It seems SRVUSD is going WAY out of their way to award this contract to SunPower, why? </bold>

Also the quote:"If not, Lowell said SunPower would have to write the school district a check." is MISLEADING, period.
SunPower guarantees the electrical output of the panels, NOT the overall produced energy. What it means is that with all the money spent on that solar system the savings would not cover the payment on that bond and <bold>Sunpower WILL NOT cut a check for the shortage</bold>. You can guess who will be covering the difference.

Posted by Ralph N. Shirlet
a resident of another community
on May 28, 2010 at 7:26 am

Ralph N. Shirlet is a registered user.

Well, Emily, in summary,

Your commentators in this exchange have illustrated the perceived issues with the installation, some with technical knowledge and others with unknowing concerns. We can expect solar PV power generation to be an important investment for our nation, state and region, but we cannot be sure that the contracted project for SRVUSD will achieve the economics claimed in the SRVUSD news release you edited and published.

Certainly, we can illustrate that Sunpower is a global producer with primary production in the Philippines and array assembly in Mexico and might contrast other technology and products made in the United States. More importantly, we can share concern for a long-term warranty as basis for Sunpower's selection when their technology does not have a long-term market probability.

We should remain concerned for the eventual appearance of the installation as an unwanted, likely out-of-place, carport structure on campuses. We were promised no structures in Alamo at MVHS and that promise will be broken. What other concerns must we have for SRVUSD's commitments to our communities?

Ralph without ROFL

Posted by Ray
a resident of Danville
on May 28, 2010 at 7:37 am

This is a total disaster. No matter who "won" the contract, to go out and BORROW this amount of money and project decades of "SAVINGS" makes no sense. Not only do you have to recover all of the millions in borrowed money & interest plus the overhead and wages of those responsible for maintaining the program. That's just to break even.

So recovering the initial $23 million is only the beginning.

Do you really think this organization is capable of saving $ and realizing a net reduction in utilities? I sure don't.

Looks like this school board is banking on a lot of HOPE & CHANGE!

Posted by mark
a resident of Danville
on May 28, 2010 at 7:56 am

The project can payback the loans. The business I am in (Solar Consulting) and my review of the proposal validate that. HOWEVER, the big concern on my part (and others) is if ANYTHING happens to Sunpower INC, OUR system will be "orphaned". The technology cannot be simply merged with any other technology out there.
The school district is taking a lot of chances here with large amounts of money.
The safe decision would have been to contract to a company that shares the identical and not proprietary products.
Poor decision by the trustees, the engineering staff.
Remember, the trustee is an elected position!
Thanks for democracy anyway!

Posted by Ralph N. Shirlet
a resident of another community
on May 28, 2010 at 9:38 am

Ralph N. Shirlet is a registered user.

Dear Emily,

Neighborhoods are planning a forum meeting tomorrow to discuss SRVUSD. In the distribution to neighborhood reps, committee members and regional counsel committee, it was noted how our governments in our region are not commenting on the Sunpower project's impact on our communities.

Our Federal and State representatives are likely avoiding comment due to the voting taking place at present. Our county representative and her CCC-MAC Alamo are not commenting on the impact of the project at MVHS. Danville Town Council Members are not commenting on the visual impact at SRVHS. San Ramon City Council Members are not commenting on similar visual impacts at schools in San Ramon.

It seems appropriate for a majority of stakeholders in SRVUSD to wonder if there is any representation of their interests in our governments and districts.

As editor, that is your ongoing story!

Ralph without ROFL

Posted by alyson
a resident of San Ramon Valley High School
on May 28, 2010 at 10:12 am

boy oh boy .... do we have a ton of angry, disgruntled people in this community or what?????????????????????????

Posted by Jim
a resident of Danville
on May 28, 2010 at 3:31 pm

I have ABSOLUTELY NO CONFIDENCE in the payback calculation that was done. This system WILL NOT - WILL NOT have energy savings to pay for itself, aside from all the other issues.
It is time to get a TRULY INDEPENDENT EVALUATION (not some consultant that feeds from the Solar Company) on that NOW before it is too late, otherwise WE WILL BE STUCK WITH THE COST OF IT.
I hope someone in this educated community has the guts and knowledge to take legal action against this and do us all a favor.

Posted by What?
a resident of Danville
on May 29, 2010 at 3:11 pm

Where were all of you complainers over the last six months or more?! This project has been under discussion ad naseum at several board meetings, which are all PUBLICLY HELD. We've seen pictures, heard technical discussions, had expert commentary... the story has even been in this online publication at least twice before. I suggest you show up and voice your concerns before the decisions are made, instead of griping afterwards. I only attend once or twice a quarter, and even I know why the panels are on carports instead of buildings (more sun, for one thing), where the money is coming from, the terms of the loan, why the district is doing this now, and what accommodations have been made for the "unknowables" in the equation.

I have confidence in the payback on this investment. Save your "energy" for next year, when class sizes are 30-40 students, most of the high school electives have been removed, and any extended day programs, including Zero period, are gone.

Sometimes, you have to spend money to save money.

Posted by Ralph N. Shirlet
a resident of another community
on May 29, 2010 at 7:48 pm

Ralph N. Shirlet is a registered user.

Reality, Emily, is always a challenge when PR overcomes consideration.

The reality of the carport approach is a packaged deal that includes proprietary panels that cannot be considered advanced technology beyond 3-5 years. Payback for the carports is questionable because fixed exposure without 168 degree light collection limits the real energy production to 7-9 hours per day year round.

The issue remains that SRVUSD did not broadly access neighborhoods and more importantly has limited neighborhoods in their communication. Going to an SRVUSD board meeting is simply "3 minutes of commentary without response." Not the interactive reality of how planning needs to occur in our region.

We own SRVUSD as district residents and stakeholders. We do not need permission to demand interactive communication with individual board members and administration.

Simple as that!

Ralph without ROFL

Posted by Julia
a resident of Alamo
on May 31, 2010 at 9:28 am

I said it once and I'll say again...this is a super waste of public funds. It's all just warm and fuzzy BS and the dreamers are all falling in line. Maybe our young when they grow up will realize how foolish this generation was to fall for all this BS. Oh go head and laugh at Julia...that's fine. If all this wasn't so serious, it would be laughable, but it isn't. Have a great weekend. Julia from Alamo

Posted by Greg
a resident of Danville
on Jun 3, 2010 at 10:04 am

I am one of those school board members who voted for the solar project. I did so only after extensive investigation of the various proposals, comments from community members, a citizens advisory committee made up of parents and community members knowledgeable about solar, independent solar consultants, and three different legal advisors looking at the proposed contract from all angles.

I made it clear to the District that I would only vote yes if the financials penciled out (we would save money over the life of the project), the eventual bidder met the Buy American federal guidelines, and the contract had guarantees about electrical output.

There are no 100% guarantees that the solar project will save money. However, the only way this would not pencil out would be if PG&E had huge cuts in electrical rates over the next 25 years. The odds of that are so small as to make this project as close to a sure thing as you can get.

Some wanted us to wait until solar technology was perfected. Those are the same people waiting for computers to finally be perfected. Solar technology will advance and will become less expensive over time. However, at some point you need to take the plunge. We will save enough taxpayer monies over the life of the project that we can reinvest the savings into more efficient solar and other energy saving technologies in the coming years.

The federal grant does have to be paid back over 17 years. However, the interest rates on the bonds are very, very low and their costs were calculated into the overall cost of the project.

The solar company selected was vetted by numerous experts and lawyers. Again, no company is immune from failure regardless of size (GM comes to mind). However, the contractor's finances were reviewed by financial experts and deemed solid.

Independent experts also reviewed the technology being used by the selected solar contractor. Again, it received high marks. There are pluses and minus between the various solar technologies available today. However, the selected contractor's technology was deemed very reliable. In addition, people were worried about maintenance of the solar panels, inverters, etc. The contract price includes maintenance of all solar equipment for the first 17 years. Those costs were included in the calculations to determine the financial viability of the program.

In short, voting against this project would have been wrong. It conservatively saves $30,000,000 over the solar project period in taxpayer monies. If cap and trade legislation goes through electricity rates will skyrocket (according to Pres. Obama) and the savings will be even greater.

The Board will next consider how the savings will be put into a special fund to cover replacement of the solar systems and to invest in new energy saving projects that will save even more taxpayer dollars. I see this project as seed money for additional potential money saving projects.

Finally, a partner from a law firm that deals with financial bonds and transactions with hundreds of public agencies told us that we had done more review, more investigation and more vetting than any other public agency he was aware of with this project. He suggested that our process should be the model for other agencies.

I hope this clears up some of the questions and misperceptions about the solar project that was adopted by the school district.

Posted by Jim
a resident of Danville
on Jun 7, 2010 at 2:06 pm

I am sorry to say the even the board member does not address the main issues here.
1-There are plenty of US and other companies that manufacture to ONE standard, UNLIKE SUNPOWER, this is an unnecessary RISK.
2-There are NO GUARANTEES of the produced amount of electricity.
3-SUNPOWER ONLY guarantees the output of their panel, so does EVERY other manufacture and have to do it per CEC.
4-There is no guarantee of PAYBACK.
5-If it was a viable project there would be a PPA option, Power Purchase Agreement. There would then be NO RISK to the public.
6- There are MANY PPA projects because they make sense, this DOES NOT

And finally all this done with warm and fuzzy feelings and that is WRONG.

Posted by James Robert Seidel
a resident of another community
on Oct 5, 2011 at 9:52 pm

actually all of you are wrong as I have over 35 years of solar industry particapation. Most of these sunguys projects that are
being passed on and paid for sound rather insane. Why do I write this word, because these new schools which would have benefited with
flexible solar ultra thin and lightweight amorphous silicon, not silicate, meaning no glass panels whatsoever, flexible solar,
would have in the long run lasted longer. The contacts between the wafers in most PV modules seperates, remember I started this solar
back in 1979 when most of you "know it alls- were playing sports
and getting comic books to read. A lot of you were just back seat drive ins.

The solar industry was stolen by Japanese and Chinese horsetheives
and the government screw ups who we voted for, and the king clown
and his africa jet setting partner have sold our country down the amazon river in a sense.

Dr. Paul has not given his negative remarks on PV or Solar Thermal,
not yet.

The school solar project has issues, and corruption could probably
be found, how about 3 different outside solar contractors, getting
involved in the math portion of the costs and have a couple solar
product brokers look into the side pockets of the project controllers. Those controllers who wrote the contract and paid the
fees, or took the fees.

All this jazz about solar panels have this much or plus 5 percentage
of more power really means little after 25 years.........what
does mean something, is a monthly maintenace review of the systems
for the next 50 years.

Go look at the solar game at UC Davis that a certain solar company
spent a whole lot of about 14 million to heat water when about
7 million would have made the hot water, made by the sun, and
backup pv charged batteries for complete stand alone solar LED
area security lights for parking lots and walk areas and of course
another couple million for a dollar or so watt cost each on solar
panels of 280 watts per unit.

I do not think the school clowns, or what ever name people call
principle people at schools these days, what ever board members
who are so delighted to get paybacks, really knew a darn thing about
what they were purchasing.

The new concept of taking copper to replace silver for the solar panels will surly make the new school solar systems work even less years than stated.

No body would listen to me about Solendrya two years ago.

I am James Robert Seidel, and I know about solar.

More than probably a handfull of people in the USA understand
solar airconditioning more than I.

ScoT Wayland of San Ramon is one, however we differ on what SOLAR PV
is best, he knows his technical drawings skills way far better than I.

By the way, what provisions for birds does the solar clowns have
for the school solar projects?

That should be a real handfull of you know what..............

Solar works fine, its those money grabbing clowns that mess up
and make shadows.
What is usually found out later afterwards. Who is going to clean up this one?