In early 2010, the Chico Unified School District (USD) began exploring solar power as a way to help reduce energy costs. The district also wanted to join the ranks of many in the Chico community using energy generated by solar systems. Chico USD had already realized energy and cost savings by installing more efficient lighting and a new energy management system, and by designing new buildings with an emphasis on energy savings. But the district was ready for the next step, and hired San Francisco engineering firm Newcomb Anderson McCormick (NAM) to help evaluate solar options.
NAM performed a feasibility analysis, comparing the costs and benefits of different methods of procuring solar. They 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 the project to achieve immediate cost savings. Chico USD put out a request for proposal (RFP) through a competitive bidding process, and in October 2010, awarded SolarCity the contract to build 1.6 MW of PV across five district sites. As a SolarCity PPA customer, the district avoided the upfront cost of installing solar and now simply buys the power the systems produce at a set rate, typically below the cost of grid electricity. The solar arrays offset an estimated 85% of the sites’ total energy use and are expected to save Chico USD more than $3 million on utility bills over the 20-year term of the PPA.
Working closely with the district, SolarCity created structural and engineering plans for the five systems. Construction began in June 2011, and by September, three of the five systems—Pleasant Valley High School, Chico High School and Corporation Yard—were installed and producing power. Chapman Elementary and Marsh Junior High School powered up in early 2012. SolarCity’s PV systems have helped reduce the district’s annual electricity consumption by nearly 30%, resulting in an annual emissions reduction of more than 3 million pounds of CO2, equivalent to the average annual emissions from 223 households.