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The Carlsbad Unified School District offices. Courtesy photo
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CUSD approves $6.5 million in solar projects

CARLSBAD — The significant investment for solar panels is moving forward for the Carlsbad Unified School District.

During its Aug. 21 meeting, the board of trustees approved $6.5 million in solar projects for eight campuses, according to Assistant Superintendent Chris Wright.

And while only eight schools are receiving solar panels during phase one of the $265 million school bond known as Measure LL, Wright said plans are in place to include the rest of the district campuses in phase five, which is about 10 years away.

The schools receiving solar during phase one are both campuses at Aviara and Calavera Hills, Buena Vista Elementary School, Valley Middle School and Carlsbad and Sage Creek high schools.

“It’s a good thing for us to environmentally and it’s also good for our bottom line,” he said. “There are two types of green, the environmental and the physical and they both have to work for us to do a solar project. In this case, it worked out.”

In July, Superintendent Dr. Ben Churchill told the board the changes to the solar project were necessary after an audit from one of the district’s contractors found not every campus was easily accessible to install solar within the budget.

“What Schneider Electric found is that the point of connection is not at an advantageous location at six of our elementary schools,” he said during the July 24 board of trustees meeting. “As a result, extensive trenching and infrastructure would be required, which in turn would drive up the cost by 50% to about $9 million.”

The primary goals, Wright said, was to install solar on every site, which would give the district a significant savings on its power bill. Early estimates were between $1 million and $1.5 million for all sites, but with the adjusted project, Wright said the district will save about $361,000 per year.

While not the initial savings, it’s still enough to provide relief for the district’s overall budget, which its negative operating budget is decreasing each fiscal year.

The issue for the current project, though, was the connection points at some of the schools, Wright said. Several were too far away from where the solar panels for the carport would be installed, thus dramatically increasing the cost.

The district estimates it will generate 1,192 kilowatts compared to 1,190, while remaining within the project budget, Churchill said during the July meeting.

“They found some places it was ideally located, and some places it was not,” he added. “So, that’s why we went to this more consolidated approach. Essentially, we can generate the same amount of solar that we wanted to, just on half the sites.”

As for the phase five projects, Wright said the district can start on some of the infrastructure now to ready those sites for the future installs.

Additionally, with the city of Carlsbad pursuing Community Choice Energy, Wright said it would have to make sense for the district to join the city’s new energy program or joint powers agreement.

A study conducted by EES Consulting released earlier this year showed ratepayers in Carlsbad would save about 2% on their monthly bill. For Carlsbad Unified, which currently pays about $1.9 million per year through San Diego Gas & Electric, it would be about an additional $38,000 per year savings, Wright said.

“The days where you plug in solar and dial runs backward are over,” he said. “As SDG&E gets more solar customers, they have changed the billing structure and that’s why you don’t get the same amount of savings as you did 10 years ago.”