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One of the biggest impacts was the city’s increase in non-residential solar capacity, which has passed projections for 2021. File photo
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Solar, battery storage coming to Carlsbad school district

CARLSBAD — As technology becomes more efficient and worthy of investment, government entities, school districts, residents and businesses are jumping on board.

For the Carlsbad Unified School District, the time has come to upgrade its energy plans. As part of Measure HH, the $265 million school bond passed on Nov. 6, the district will invest in solar panels and battery storage at each of its campuses as part of the larger facilities improvement program.

“We heard from our board over time to find ways to contain energy costs,” Superintendent Dr. Ben Churchill said. “We also heard they were interested in minimizing our environmental impact. It made sense for us to go down the route to work towards recapturing the dollars we spend on utilities.”

The scope of the work will focus on rooftop and parking structures for the solar panels. The battery storage housings will be constructed next to a connection point on each campus.

The Long-Range Facility Master Plan, otherwise known as Measure HH, will take about 12 years to complete. The energy installations, however, are expected to take less time, although they will be completed in phases concurrent with some of the other renovations.

Phase I of the project will commence next year, while some other projects within the scope of the plan have already begun. As for some of the energy components, the work is scheduled to begin in January 2020 and be finished one year later.

One reason is Schneider Electric, which is the contractor, must first decide which schools can incorporate rooftop solar. Roofs will be tested to determine if they can handle the weight of panels; those passing the test will get rooftop solar, the others solar parking structures.

Assistant Superintendent Chris Wright said the parking lot structures can be done during Phase I, which calls for $88.8 million in renovations at various campuses.

“For the parking lots … we do have to sacrifice a few parking spots,” said Kelly Fleming, Carlsbad Unified’s director of facilities and construction management. “On the rooftops … are our current facilities structurally able to take on a solar array? If not, as we are doing the modernization, we can add that to the design of the structures.”

Battery storage is a newer technology, yet one becoming more popular for entities such as school districts to deploy to combat peak hour energy demands and costs.

“The batteries give us the flexibility to apply the power at the most expensive time,” Wright explained. “That gives us that flexibility to manage our bills appropriately and get the biggest bang for our buck.”

Fleming said part of the responsibility for the solar panels is to feed the batteries, which will then be used during peak hours to offset higher costs during those hours.

Financially, meanwhile, Churchill said the district expects to recoup an estimated 75 percent of its current costs. The district spends about $2 million per year for power, and once the solar panels and batteries come online, he said he expects the district to save at least $1.5 million.

A feasibility study conducted for Proposition 39, which approved energy-efficient projects in the district several years ago, will act as a baseline to determine the size of the battery storage units, Fleming said.

“The batteries aren’t designed to sustain the campus for a school day,” she added. “They’re designed to shave that peak interval, which is 15 to 30 minutes. With solar, we can recharge the batteries off peak hours and when we’re not using the peak interval, we can use the solar.”

Note: Schneider Electric is the CUSD’s current Proposition 39 vendor, which allowed CUSD to extend the contract to include the solar panels and battery storage units, according to Fleming.

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