Visalia school district embarks on solar project

Visalia Unified School District is set to break ground on a $4-million project that will fully power 12 school sites.

Working with SolarCity of San Mateo, Calif., the district expects to begin construction in June using funding from its Measure E bond passed in November.

Most of the panels will be installed on top of shade structures over parking lots and play areas for a combined energy generating capacity of almost 2.5 megawatts.

Producing around 3.4 million kilowatt-hours of electricity, the project is estimated to save the district more than $700,000 on energy costs during the first year of operation and $15 million of electricity over the next 25 years.

The panels are also expected to result in an annual reduction of more than 2.6 million gallons of water that would have been used to cool traditional power plants.

Helping recoup some of the cost, Southern California Edison will pay the district more than $2.3 million in rebates for the electricity over the next five years.

According to the Visalia Unified School District, the $60 million from Measure E has the potential to bring $120 million when combined with anticipated state matching funds.

The first series of Measure E bonds was issued in April, generating $33.99 million for projects ranging from new construction to paint and roofing district-wide.

Visalia Unified is among many schools throughout the San Joaquin Valley turning to solar energy to save money.

Earlier this month, the Clovis Unified School District broke ground on the first phase of its 5.9-megawatt solar project that will install photovoltaic panels at 19 school sites to save the district $2.7 million annually on energy costs.

Last June, Cupertino Electric finished up a project that put solar systems totaling 1.12 megawatts on several schools in the Golden Valley School District in Madera, saving up to $9 million over the next 25 years.

The Porterville Unified School District will be able to save $44 million over the same time period thanks to solar panels totaling 3.7 megawatts installed by San Jose-based SunPower at six of its school sites.

The Firebaugh-Las Deltas Unified School District also expects to save $9 million through solar panels installed last year at three of its five schools, while the Selma Unified School District is completing a $13.5-million solar energy project at eight campuses to save $34 million over 25 years.

Fresno Unified School District has solar panels installed at Roosevelt High School and also plans to install some on top of its new 27-classroom building at Edison High.