Environmental activists, union electrical workers, and other citizens packed a classroom at Joshua Tree Elementary School to hear—and participate in—a presentation by a solar energy firm to the Morongo Unified School District Board of Education. Reporter Dan Stork attended also, and summarizes the proceedings…

PsomasFMG, in the persons of its VP for Business Development and its President, gave a pitch for its solar energy implementation services to the MUSD Board of Education, before the Board’s regular meeting. The VP, Alex Smith, said that the company has implemented solar energy generation for 71 schools in nine districts —five of them in the high desert—in Southern California. Smith said that his company projects a savings in the neighborhood of $7.85 million to $9.7 million over 25 years, compared to estimated Southern California Edison bills, should the District enter into a Power Purchase Agreement with PsomasFMG. In the first 15 years of the agreement, Smith claimed an average annual increase of 3.9 percent in cost to the District, with no increases in the final 10 years. In response to an audience question, the president of the company, Paul Mikos, said that MUSD could buy a system outright, instead of leasing—but even districts that are fat with bond money have chosen the path of leasing, in order to spend available money on school programs and buildings. In addition to cost savings and environmental benefits, Smith and Mikos talked about their track record in helping districts integrate the how-to of renewable energy technology into their math, science, and social studies curricula.  They also stressed their company’s dominance in the school sector in Southern California, its experience with safety and schedule considerations in school environments, its commitment to the use of local labor, and the bonus of shade structures created by raised solar arrays. A Board committee of Donna Munoz and Karalee Hargrove was appointed to fast track a solar implementation, in consultation with District staff.


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    Oct 2013 solar is not good for the district, and now it is?

    By Z107.7 News, on October 3rd, 2013
    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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