The Coast News Group

Solar projections up 50% for CUSD; staff works on options

CARLSBAD — A new twist with the Carlsbad Unified School District’s solar energy plan requires the board of trustees to make a difficult decision.

An investment-grade audit of the district’s plan to install solar panels at every school campus showed connections at some sites would raise the total cost by nearly 50%, according to Assistant Superintendent Chris Wright.

The reason, he said, is some connection points at those sites would require trenching and additional infrastructure work to connect solar panels, via a carport.

“What Schneider Electric found is that the point of connection is not at an advantageous location at six of our elementary schools,” Superintendent Ben Churchill said of the contractor’s audit 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 project is part of Measure HH, the $265 million school bond passed last year to renovate and upgrade district facilities. The four-phase improvement project is expected to take 12 years, but the solar portion, which is still on schedule, would be part of the first phase, which is expected to break ground next spring, Wright said.

The decision for the trustees will be whether to stay within the $6.5 million budget and limit the scope of the project or approve moving forward with connecting all schools at the $9 million price tag.

“We’re evaluating every site to figure out where the solar goes, where the point of connection is and the construction and cost required to connect them,” Wright added. “Then we can come up with a cohesive plan for what solar looks like in Carlsbad Unified.”

To stay on budget with the original plan, he said, the district is putting forward an alternative plan, which will consolidate solar installations at eight school sites including the joint campuses (Aviara Oaks, Calavera Hills middle and elementary schools), the larger secondary campuses (Valley Middle School, Carlsbad and Sage Creek High Schools), as well as Buena Vista Elementary, where the point of connection is ideally located, Churchill said.

And while the changes remain within the scope of the budget, he said, it allows for the district to add those solar projects later in the process. The district is working with the architects and contractors for Hope, Kelly and Magnolia elementary schools for foundations for solar carports in case those schools are not added during the first phase.

“By doing so, we’ll generate slightly more energy, so 1,192 kilowatts compared to 1,190, while remaining within our project budget,” Churchill added.

Wright said the district will not be over-generating power to the point where it could sell back to SDG&E.

Wright said the district is trying to find the sweet spot within the $6.5 million budget and to accommodate as many campuses as possible. As for other sources of funding, he said the audit revealed limited funds, in the thousands of dollars, from grants or subsidies so the district could connect every school.

Photo Caption: Several Carlsbad schools, such as Pacific Rim Elementary School (picture), may not be able to install solar panel projects during the first phase of the Carlsbad Unified School District’s rollout of Measure HH improvements due to inflated costs. Photo by Steve Puterski

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