Placer Union banks on solar power

District committed to 25-year agreement with Energy Saving Pros, Inc.
By: Andrew Westrope, Staff Writer


According to preliminary estimates, Placer Union High School District could save more than $17 million over the next 25 years through an agreement to buy solar power from Energy Saving Pros Construction, Inc. in exchange for free panel installation.


The district’s board of trustees approved an agreement with ESP School Fund, a special branch of the Loomis-based company, in May after administrators had presented months of research in public meetings. Construction has yet to begin on the project, but engineers will visit the district’s sites over the next few weeks to finalize details before asking the Department of State Architects to sign off on them.


The power purchase agreement promises ESP will construct, at no cost to the district, a system of photovoltaic cells to generate solar energy at Placer, Colfax, Chana /Maidu, Foresthill and Del Oro high schools, as well as the district office and nearby facilities buildings. Once constructed, the panels would be owned and maintained by ESP for the next 25 years, but the district would buy the electricity they produce starting at $0.16 per kWh, with a 2 percent annual inflation rate.


The agreement also includes buyout provisions for the district at seven, 10 and 15 years in case it decides it wants to own the panels.


In his first pitch to the board in April, Assistant Superintendent Doug Marquand said the district would still need energy from Pacific Gas & Electric, but exponentially less than it does now. By paying for more than 80 percent of its energy at a slightly discounted rate, and one that inflates much slower and earns a Performance Based Incentive rebate from the state, he said, the district could save $17.3 million between now and 2037.


“I think one of the biggest risks is, do we think that PG&E’s inflation rate is going to be, on average over 25 years, less than 2 percent?” Marquand said. “The data that we see is that PG&E’s rates are going to be 6-6.5 percent. And there is no up-front cost to the district for this.”


With a regular use of about 4,136,000 kWh annually, the district would have saved about $156,667 in 2013 under the agreement, assuming the current rate of $0.17 per kWh for only 486,000 kW from PG&E and a $91,250 PBI rebate. As PG&E’s rate climbs faster than ESP’s every year, the total annual savings estimate grows.


The agreement stipulates that ESP will pay for any damage caused by the system, and roofing repairs will be split: the schools pay for roof damage in the first 11 years not caused by the solar panels, and ESP would cover the damages for the following 14 years. ESP will also pay for re-roofing Colfax High School Gym B and Placer High School’s cafeteria and 200 building, if those accommodate solar panels in the final design.


On the other hand, if the district decides to close one of its schools in the next 25 years, it would have to repurpose that site so ESP could still charge for energy production.


ESP CEO Brian Pierce said it won’t be his company’s first school project since the former construction company expanded into the solar business in 2010. He approached the district last year while overseeing the completion of a similar system at Loomis Union School District, with which his business partner, Shad Derifield, is highly involved….