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Sierra College on solar power quest for Rocklin, Grass Valley campuses

By: Gus Thomson, Journal Staff Writer
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Sierra College is planning a major move into solar power at its Rocklin and Grass Valley campuses. With plans for ground-mounted solar cells in parking lots and others on buildings, a report from the college estimates savings of from $75,000 to $125,000 a year on what is now a $1.5 million electricity bill. The college has put out a request for proposals to construct solar arrays at the two campuses at no cost to Sierra. The contract would also include a power-purchase agreement that could save the college money on electricity. Bob Parkins is a Sacramento consultant hired by the college to look at the feasibility of solar and develop a request for proposals that includes a power-purchase agreement. Under the power purchase agreement, the college would be paying less for energy than it now pays off the Pacific Gas & Electric grid. “I’m expecting Sierra College will end up saving money for the energy and be able to use that for its general budget and other purposes,” Parkins said. Reflecting the amount of interest among solar companies, Parkins said 50 people attended the pre-bid solicitation meeting. “We expect a minimum of six to eight proposals,” Parkins said. Laura Doty, college director of facilities and construction, said that since she has worked for the district over the past two years, people have come in all the time with solar proposals. “A handful have been saying ‘Why haven’t we done it,’ “ Doty said. “It’s always been a question of having the money to do it?” Trustee Aaron Klein, a member of the college board’s facilities and planning subcommittee, said that with federal tax credits for businesses, the financial details have been looking better for the college. Klein said that he and fellow subcommittee member Nancy Palmer returned from a community-college trustees conference enthusiastic about the possibilities of solar after seeing what several other districts were doing. After a presentation by Kirk Uhler, a former Solar Power Inc. employee, and Jim Conkey, a former construction partner with Solar Power, it was decided to hire an independent consultant to develop a request for proposals, Klein said. Proposals are due Wednesday. Palmer and Bill Martin, the other member of the subcommittee, have volunteered to do interviews on March 18th before a recommendation is made to the board on bids. “My goal for the project is no upfront capital investments by the college and no higher costs for energy down the road,” Klein said. “We just need to get the best deal that protects the college.”