The Nevada Joint Union High School District submitted modified plans to PG&E this week in its ongoing process toward beginning the installation of solar energy infrastructure, according to Jordan Kohler, the district’s director of facilities and construction.
According to Kohler, the district’s board gave direction to begin engaging with potential solar energy solutions in late 2018, and the district in early 2019 selected SunPower to provide solar arrays and other infrastructure at both the Nevada Union and Bear River high school campuses.
However, in order to begin the installation, which district Superintendent Brett McFadden said was planned to take the form of carport structures at each of the schools’ parking lots, the district requires approval from PG&E in order to make sure it will be able to “plug it in” to the surrounding power grid.
The intended effects of installing these, according to McFadden, are that the district would be able to supply power not only on its own campuses, but out into the surrounding power grid — as well as save the district money in the long term on electric utility bills.
According to Kohler, the district’s utility costs from PG&E currently average $90,000 per month.
The district was notified May 6 that PG&E had completed its evaluation of what would be necessary for these systems to be able to export power — upgrades which, according to McFadden, totaled over $400,000, and which the district had until Wednesday to respond to.
“We’ve been frustrated for a while, because we’re ready to go,” McFadden said Tuesday, adding that the additional fees PG&E had informed them of were “well beyond” what the district had expected, despite preparing for some contingencies.
“We anticipated some upgrades,” said Kohler. “Traditionally, in a system like this that you’d see, we budgeted up to $150,000 for those fees, just based on … the industry standards.”
Megan McFarland, a spokesperson for PG&E, said Wednesday that the company had made progress with the district, which had agreed to submit a modified plan at that point, and that the project was “moving along.“
“This customer had a lot of questions, and we’re just happy we could reach a resolution,” said McFarland. Asked whether the timeline of this process thus far was common, she said it could vary depending on the scope of the particular project and how many other projects were ongoing at the time.
DISTRICT WEIGHING ITS OPTIONS
Kohler said Thursday that, after considering additional associated permits and tax costs, the district estimates that the upgrades evaluated by PG&E as necessary for the original project design would actually total around $700,000.
The total cost of the entire project, at both Nevada Union and Bear River, is $7.9 million, Kohler said.
According to Kohler, after the district submitted its revised plan to PG&E Wednesday, indicating that it would instead be installing a “non-export system,” and downsizing solar arrays, it will now wait to find out PG&E’s evaluation of the impact of these changes.
Upon finding out, said Kohler, the district will be able to either go forward with the modifications or have the option of reverting to the original plan, and the additional fees associated with it.
Meanwhile, the district is taking a variety of factors into account as it weighs its options.
On one hand, said Kohler, downsizing the project to what would be considered a “small system” would shift the responsibility for certain upgrade costs onto PG&E rather than the district. However, the loss of functionality, and therefore energy savings, associated with that downsize could make this a less worthwhile investment, meaning it could be in the district’s best interest to spend the additional money now instead.
In addition, Kohler explained, the project’s current design has already been approved by the state, and gaining approval for a different one could come with additional costs.
He said the district is projecting four different project models at this time, analyzing the costs and benefits of each over the next 20 to 25 years.
Victoria Penate is a staff writer for The Union. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.