Solar-generated electricity is good thing, right? Maybe not for the local school district, says Morongo Unified staff. Dan Stork reviews some considerations…
The prospects for substantial solar energy usage by the Morongo Unified School District are less than rosy, but conservation measures are a promising way to save on electricity bills. That’s the message that Assistant Superintendent Dave Price and Facilities Director Ron Smith laid out for the MUSD Board of Education in a workshop on the subject. Price said that a reduced carbon footprint, creating shade structures, and setting a community and educational example all favor implementing solar-generated electricity in the school district, but several economic factors point in a negative direction. The capital cost is too great for the District to consider implementing it in-house. The alternative is to lease a system from a private utility on a 25-year contract. Price ticked off many disadvantages:
• The pricing formula required by a private company results in higher per-kilowatt cost within five years than what Edison would charge.
• At least 20 percent of the power needs would have to be supplied by Edison anyhow, at a higher rate than if Edison provided all power.
• In the desert sun, solar panels start degrading after about four years, and may need replacement after about eight years.
• School roofs need access for infrastructure maintenance improvements, which would be impeded by solar panels.
• School environments pose particular safety risks for solar installations, both to students and to the equipment.
• The places where the District would like shade structures don’t always match where the vendors can profitably engineer them.
• Some solar panels have a fire-hazard history. (San Diego Unified had to scrap 24 rooftop systems for this reason.)
Price said that a more promising way of saving money on electricity is to reduce usage, by centralized monitoring of power patterns, eliminating wasteful small appliances, using LED and compact fluorescent lighting, and more. He said the cost of these programs can be reduced by using money resulting from the voter-approved Prop 39, which transfers $2.5 billion over five years from the state’s general fund to the Clean Energy Jobs Act Fund, for the almost exclusive use by K thru 12 schools and the Community College System.

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