Auburn Union seeks solar funding options

Solar project still a priority for board of trustees
By: Andrew Westrope, Staff Writer
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Solar-powered campuses are still a possibility for Auburn Union School District, but a two-year-old agreement with iecRenewables, LLC is on hold while the board of trustees explores other options.

The board received an update on the project in meeting last week, as Superintendent Michele Schuetz explained the dilemma of planning ahead with evolving technology.

“There are a lot of new energy programs that have come to be since Jan. 1, and we are doing our research and working with PG&E and other companies to see what would benefit the district,” she said. “The solar project is still a priority of the board and the district, but we’re now just doing our research to make sure that we find the best program that meets both the energy needs and the fiscal needs of the district.”

In the prior agreement, iecRenewables would reserve ownership of the panels and sell their energy output back to the schools at a lower-than-market rate, but now district administrators wonder if they could do better.

Schuetz said she and Chief Business Officer Monica Williams have been meeting with representatives from various companies over the past several weeks, gathering information on their respective energy programs so the board could compare them. The board’s next meeting is on Wednesday at the district office.

“We still like what (iecRenewables) did. We just want to make sure that we’ve utilized all the funding sources, all the rebates, all the changes in energy (legislation) that we can to best support the district,” Schuetz said. “We’re being very thorough.”

The goal is still to harness 80 to 85 percent of the district’s energy needs through solar panels on car port roofs and on constructed embankments next to buildings, but exact locations depend on cost-effectiveness. Schuetz said the original plan had solar panels at E.V. Cain, Rock Creek, Auburn Elementary and Skyridge, but Alta Vista and the district office were not large enough to generate savings. She believed this would still be the case unless new information recommends otherwise, though the original cost estimate of $3.5 million over 25 years is no longer current.

“Different companies that we’ve worked with have given us a different escalation rate, so we’re just trying to define what that might look like, so that’s going to change,” Schuetz said. “In order for us to move forward, it would have to be a substantial savings to the district, and that’s the research we’re doing right now.”

Williams was hopeful the project could be paid for with energy cost savings and alternative funding options like grants, tax incentives, rebates and other sources.

Schuetz said she would like to see the board accept a new proposal as soon as possible, but it can’t afford to rush into this large of an investment

“The quicker it gets implemented, the quicker the savings start, but we also want to be very responsible in our decision, because we’re making a decision that’s going to impact the district over many years,” she said. “We have meetings scheduled for the next couple months to do our research, and then we’ll be taking it back to the board probably sometime in March or April.”