Thursday, December 3, 2009

California School District Announces Solar Installation

The Irvine School District in Orange County, California recently announced its intention to partner with Beltsville, Maryland-based SunEdison, a design/build solar firm, to install solar panels on 21 schools across the district.

In what is being described as the biggest solar photovoltaic installation project in California schools, Irvine school officials say the distributed solar network will save the district up to $17 million in energy costs over the next two decades by reducing the amount of electricity purchased from Southern California Edison (SCE).

The installations will be created by leasing some of the district’s property to SunEdison, who will design, build and maintain the systems at its own expense and sell the electricity back to the school district, presumably at a rate less than that offered by SCE, and under a power purchase agreement, or PPA, that allows the district to predict energy costs for the full term of the contract, which hasn’t been specified but likely runs for at least 20 years.

Such PPAs allow solar firms to take advantage of federal and state tax credits that schools can’t access because of their non-profit status. This creates a win-win situation for solar firms and schools, and also furthers the agenda of solar energy as a significant player in America’s energy mix.

The project will begin at Rancho San Joaquin Middle School, and expand to an additional 20 campuses and school district locations. The systems will also be connected to a display terminal allowing students, teachers and staff to view electricity production and other data, though whether as cumulative totals or in real time is not mentioned.

In September, SunEdison installed a 440-kilowatt, roof-mounted solar photovoltaic system at glass-maker Owens Corning’s Kearney, New Jersey facility – a project completed just one day before SunEdison was awarded the first energy stimulus grant in the solar industry via the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, or ARRA.

In November, SunEdison and Proctor & Gamble, or P&G, announced the activation of a 1.1- megawatt solar PV system at P&G’s paper products manufacturing megawatt plant in Oxnard, California.

SunEdison, reportedly the first solar firm in the U.S. to offer a PPA as a financial tool for otherwise unaffordable solar energy installations, currently manages more than 82.5-megawatts of solar power in the U.S., and 6.2-megawatts in Europe.

More recently, SunEdison is reportedly in negotiations with St. Peters, Missouri-based MEMC, a solar chip technology expert working in the semiconductor and solar industries, which will allow MEMC to acquire SunEdison for $200 million, 70 percent in cash and 30 percent in MEMC stock. The move, according to MEMC, integrates the two firms vertically across the solar energy marketplace, combining the best of both worlds.


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