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Scottsdale District To Save $22 Million with Solar Power

An Arizona school district said it expects to reduce its electricity costs by $22.4 million over 25 years with the installation of a solar power system. Scottsdale Unified School District worked with solar company SunPower to build solar systems totaling 5.5 megawatts of production capacity at 11 district schools.

"This project will allow Scottsdale Unified School District to reduce our electricity costs at the schools receiving these systems by half, to recover valuable funds needed for our academic programs, and to pay for upgrades," said Superintendent David Peterson. "By partnering with SunPower, we are maximizing those savings as well as having clean, renewable energy generated at our schools. It is the right thing to do for our students and our community."

The installations are going on rooftops and on 290,000 square feet of shade structures in parking lots and areas where students gather, such as playgrounds. The systems will use solar panels from SunPower and are expected to be running before the end of September. SunPower will also operate, maintain, and guarantee operational cost savings of the systems, an expense estimated at about $5.8 million for the term of the agreement.

The project was made possible in part with financial incentives from electric utility APS, which has a renewable energy incentive program. Financing was done through $26.4 million worth of school construction bonds, allowing the district to own the systems while receiving the APS incentive payments and enjoying the energy cost savings.

When the project was initially announced in August 2011, Peterson said the district had negotiated a zero percent net interest rate through a federal subsidy and signed a 17-year lease/purchase agreement. The first year positive cash flow to the district was anticipated to be about $140,000 that can be used for maintenance, operations, and energy projects, he explained. The savings are generated by the difference between what the district would have paid the utility company for electricity and what it will pay the solar provider for a comparable amount.

For example if the District uses 10,000,000 kilowatt hours at 10 cents per kWh, SUSD would
pay the utility company $1 million. Now, for that same amount of kWh used, SUSD will pay the solar provider.

The district, which has 26,000 students in 33 schools, covers about 112 square miles across four cities in the greater Phoenix metropolitan area.

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a former senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal, Campus Technology and Spaces4Learning.