In early 2010, Chico Unified School District made the decision to explore solar power as a way to help meet the District's electricity needs. The District's motivations were to join the ranks of many in the Chico community by using solar energy to reduce its dependency on polluting power sources, while also reducing energy expenses. Chico USD has already realized energy savings and cost reductions by installing more efficient lighting and a new energy management system, and by designing new buildings with an emphasis on energy savings. Additionally, the District hired a San Francisco-based engineering firm, Newcomb Anderson McCormick (NAM), to support them in their quest to go solar.
The first step was to perform a feasibility analysis to compare the costs and benefits of different methods of procuring solar. NAM identified several sites within the District that were well suited for photovoltaic (PV) systems and recommended that the District enter into a power purchase agreement (PPA) as a means of financing solar power to achieve immediate cost savings. Chico USD put out a request to solicit proposals through a competitive bidding process and in October, 2010 SolarCity was awarded the contract to build 1.6 MW of PV across 5 District sites. As a SolarCity PPA customer, the District can avoid the upfront cost of installing solar and simply buy the power produced from the systems at a set rate, typically below the cost of grid electricity. The solar production is expected to offset 85% of the sites' total energy use and save Chico USD more than $3 million on utility bills over the 20-year term of the PPA.
Working in Tandem to Deliver Solar Power
In close cooperation with the District, SolarCity created the structural and engineering plans for the 5 systems. Construction began in June, and by September, 3 of the 5 systems—Pleasant Valley High School, Chico High School and Corporation Yard—were installed and producing power. Chapman Elementary and Marsh Junior High School are expected to be installed and powered up by early 2012.
As a result of the solar installations, the District will not only achieve their goal of reducing their carbon footprint, but will also significantly reduce its operating costs. When all of SolarCity's PV systems are installed, the District's annual electricity consumption is expected to be reduced by nearly 30%, resulting in a reduction in annual greenhouse gas (CO2) emissions equivalent to the average annual emissions from 223 households.