San Marcos Pairs up With Tesla to Bring Solar Power to Schools

Tesla Motors Inc., known for building high-end electric cars, will be powering San Marcos schools, as well.

Last December, the district inked a deal with the Silicon Valley energy company to introduce solar arrays at most of its campuses. Construction on that project starts today at Paloma Elementary School, and will be rolled out in phases to San Marcos campuses.

Tesla will install, operate and maintain the equipment, and the district will purchase power at reduced rates, saving an estimated $30 million over the 20-year contract.

“That will assist us in maximizing our financial resources, protecting taxpayer dollars, and ensuring that the maximum amount of money is spent supporting the classroom and instruction,” said Mark Schiel, assistant superintendent of business services.

In addition to stretching its budget, Schiel said, the panels will provide shade, reduce the district’s carbon footprint and potentially provide instructional material and data for classroom lessons on alternative energy.

“You’re pulling yourself off the grid, and reducing your footprint on the electricity grid, and converting the sun that’s already coming down into a viable energy source,” Schiel said. “While they produce solar for the district, they produce shade. We’re able to put carports in our parking lots. It’s creating shade structures that students can play under, study under, or eat lunch under.”

Today, crews are putting up construction fencing at Paloma Elementary in preparation to install the solar arrays, Schiel said, and shortly afterward they’ll start solar installation at San Elijo Elementary School, Woodland Park Middle School, and Mission Hills High School.

In the second phase, the district will add solar at Twin Oaks, Joli Ann, San Marcos, and Knob Hill Elementary Schools. And in a third round, solar installation will take place at Discovery Elementary and Carillo Elementary Schools, San Elijo Middle School, Double Peak, and San Marcos High School. The remaining five sites, several of which are under general construction, would come on board in a final phase.

Once the solar facilities are installed district-wide, they will produce an estimated 10.1 million kilowatt hours – more than 80 percent of the schools’ annual usage of 11.4 million kilowatt hours, Schiel said. The average American home used 10,812 kilowatt hours in 2015, according to statistics from the U.S. Department of Energy.

At Mission Hills High School alone, he said, solar arrays will generate 1.6 million kilowatt hours in the first year, supplying 83 percent of the school’s projected use. The district will pay about 14 cents per kilowatt hour for that power – less than half of what it currently pays to San Diego Gas & Electric Co., Schiel said.

This is not Tesla’s first foray into San Diego-area schools. In 2015, the company contracted to build stationary battery storage systems for Escondido high schools. The batteries charge at night when power is cheaper, and then emit the stored energy during daytime hours, saving the district about $300,000 per year.

Last year, Tesla expanded its scope when it purchased SolarCity, the nation’s largest rooftop solar provider, in a bid to create a one-stop shop for cleaner energy.

The San Marcos project is part of a shift toward solar by San Diego area schools smarting from rate hikes by San Diego Gas & Electric Co. that raised their power bills by a collective $30 million starting in the 2014-15 school year.

Last year, Escondido Union High School District installed solar arrays at its campuses through a power purchase agreement with San Jose-based SunPower, which owns the panels and sells electricity to the district at reduced cost. Also in 2016, Encinitas Union School District contracted added solar projects at several schools, contracting with Sullivan Solar Power to install the $5 million systems, which are expected to recoup $21 million over 25 years.

San Marcos Pairs up With Tesla to Bring Solar Power to Schools, by Deborah Sullivan Brennan, The San Diego Union-Tribune, October 12, 2017.

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