Brighter days ahead following installation of school solar panels

Technology helps Oak Park see substantial cost saving



It’s been less than a year since Oak Park Unified School District installed solar panels at all six of its schools, and the investment is starting to pay off, officials say.

The district turned on the solar panel system in July 2017 at a cost of nearly $7 million. The project was funded by the voter-approved Measure S bond passed in 2016.

Martin Klauss, assistant superintendent of business and administrative services, said the solar panels installed at six school sites are now reaping financial rewards. The return on the nearly $7 million investment for the solar installation will save about $8.3 million over 15 years. The savings take into consideration the yearly maintenance cost of $33,000.

In 2016, before the solar panels were installed, the total electricity cost for the district was about $500,000. After installing the panels in July, the district estimates that the annual cost for last year had dropped to about $322,000.

So far this year the district has saved $176,000 in energy costs and is on track to meet a projected $354,000 in overall savings for 2018, Klauss said.

Ongoing costs were also discussed. Klauss said the district budgets for a minimum of 5 percent increase per year in energy rates from Southern California Edison.

As a preventive measure, the district maintains the solar panels at each school by using infrared scans once a year to measure their effectiveness. The district also projected that the cost to wash the panels is about $5,000 per year.

In an earlier meeting this year, Superintendent Tony Knight said the use of solar panels will reduce the district’s carbon output by 710 tons a year, which is the equivalent of taking 127 gas-powered cars off the road.

The Oak Park district is among a few in California to buy, rather than lease, solar panels. Many districts in the state, Knight said, lease the panels through a power purchase agreement, which saves school districts from paying upfront costs for solar panel installation but requires them to buy power from the solar company.

Knight said owning the solar panels will reap greater financial savings in the long run.