PLANADA -- Solar energy now powers Planada schools, with a $1.2 million savings projected over the next 20 years.
The Le Grand Union High School District, and possibly the Planada Community Services District, also may be harnessing the sun's energy soon.
Ribbon-cutting ceremonies were held Friday afternoon at Planada Elementary School and Cesar Chavez Middle School, celebrating a public-private lease partnership with Irvine-based Hanwha Solar Energy America.
Planada school Superintendent Jose Gonzalez said his district is the first in Merced County to go solar. It's part of a green initiative that includes using recycled tire materials for playground bedding and building community gardens at both schools.
Board President Daniel Chavez said trustees are anxious to see what savings are realized by the 314.6-kilowatt solar energy facility at Chavez Middle School and the 175-kilowatt plant at Planada Elementary School.
"I think it's a win-win situation for the district," Chavez said. "It's an important project for the district. We have to look at ways to keep costs down. It's great."
Chavez is district manager for the Planada Community Services District. Its board is considering a similar arrangement with Hanwha for a solar plant to provide power for its wastewater treatment system.
A former teacher and principal, Chavez said the district's utility bill for March was about $8,000 and the costs for the summer should be $10,000 a month.
"We stand to save money," Chavez said. Hanwha representatives made a presentation recently to the community services board.
Gonzalez said there are no out-of-pocket costs for the district. The district will pay Hanwha slightly over 14 cents per kilowatt-hour for the power; the rate through PG&E is a bit more than 18 cents per kilowatt-hour. Hanwha will get utility rebates for energy savings.
The district stands to save more than $1.22 million over the 20-year term of the agreement. After two decades, the district will own the solar facility, Gonzalez said.
Le Grand going green
In Le Grand, the high school district hopes to switch over to solar energy within the next month, according to Superintendent Donna Alley. The Hanwha solar energy facility was built next to the gym, in a field not being used.
The panels have been installed and a ribbon-cutting ceremony is anticipated soon, Alley said.
"The future's finally here," Alley said. "This will help us be a little more green. It's a way to save in these difficult economic times."
Alley expects 20 percent to 25 percent energy savings a month and, like Planada, about a $1.2 million in savings over 20 years.
Solar energy displays will be installed in the school's cafeteria and library. Solar lesson plans will be available for science teachers.
A Hanwha spokesman said the schools and district will have access to a dedicated website that will allow students, staff and the public to view real-time production of electricity and environmental data from the solar energy facilities.
Gonzalez credited former Superintendent Steve Gomes, now county superintendent of schools, for his pioneering efforts in getting the solar project rolling.
"I am pleased to see the completion of the solar panels in the Planada Elementary School District," Gomes said. "The solar panel installation demonstrates the school board's vision for Planada's future as it will not only reduce energy costs, but serve as an example to students on how our society can continue to reduce the school's carbon footprint."
Hanwha designs, constructs, operates and maintains the solar energy facilities. The company bills the district monthly for energy produced.
The solar facility at Planada Elementary is expected to offset 73 percent of the school's power usage and 93.4 percent of the power used at Chavez Middle School.
Reporter Doane Yawger can be reached at (209) 385-2407 or firstname.lastname@example.org.