PALM SPRINGS UNIFIED SCHOOL DISTRICT

Project Profile: Palm Springs Unified School District

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Industry: K-12 Education

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Location: Palm Springs, California

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Company: Palm Springs Unified School District

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System Type: Canopy-mounted solar panels

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System Size: 14.4 MW

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Savings: $8.6 million over 20 years

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Capital Outlay: $0

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Saves Money and Enriches Learning with Solar

The Palm Springs Unified School District (PSUSD) is committed to delivering a quality education to nearly 24,000 students in one of the fastest-growing regions in California. The District has sixteen elementary schools, five middle schools, four comprehensive high schools and two alternative education high schools plus several other education programs.

In this desert community, energy has long been a top priority for PSUSD. In 2009, the District began developing a master energy plan to provide strategic guidance for its initiatives. Solar technology was identified as part of the plan, but the District was not yet ready to pursue it. For two years, PSUSD focused on energy conservation, while developing a Request for Proposal (RFP) to develop a solar energy program.

Challenge

The solar initiative kicked into high gear in 2011, when the District issued its RFP and began evaluating solar vendors. To minimize up-front costs, the District was looking for a partner who could offer a Power Purchase Agreement (PPA). Another key requirement for the plan was a zero percent escalation rate, which would ensure low, fixed, and predictable power costs. The District distributed its RFQ to 29 companies.

“We talked with the three largest national providers, but we chose SunEdison because of their outstanding reputation with other Southern California school districts,” says Julie Arthur, Executive Director of Facilities, Planning, and Development.

Solution

SunEdison worked with the District to create a PPA to install and run its new solar technology with no money upfront. Under the agreement, SunEdison would finance, manage, and maintain the solar deployment. The District in turn would purchase power from SunEdison for 20 years, at a steady, predictable rate that was lower than it was paying its local utility.

“We were able to negotiate our rates down with SunEdison, and our annual average rate declined by a penny per kilowatt hour—even two pennies in some cases,” says Arthur.

With zero rate escalation built into its agreement, PSUSD is insulated from power rate increases and volatility in the future.

The District identified ten sites for the first phase of its deployment, including nine schools and a district service center. At each site, SunEdison partnered with a local installer to construct solar canopies. The first included 10 schools and the District Service Center, with the first two schools coming online in June 2013. A planned second phase will deploy solar power at 15 additional campuses.

Benefits

The Palm Springs Unified School District began saving money as soon as its first solar panels began operating. And its savings are expected to grow in the years ahead.

“We have projected $8.6 million in savings over 20 years for the first phase, based on a conservative estimate of two percent [utility] rate increases per year,” explains Arthur. “Immediately after we signed our agreement, our local utility raised its rates by five percent, so our savings could be higher over the long run.”

The SunEdison solar installation also makes the District eligible for additional savings, thanks to incentives offered by its local utility.

“If you have solar on your campus, you can qualify for a reduced power rate,” says Arthur. “So having solar in place can help us in other areas as well.”

The new solar installations also give the District real-time visibility into its power usage. Through SunEdison Connect, an online energy services portal, the PSUSD is able to see and manage their energy usage more effectively. As educators become more familiar with their monitoring tools, they are beginning to incorporate its real-time data into their curricula.

“We have a renewable energy academy at Desert Hot Springs High School, and our staff have been working with classrooms to monitor power consumption at various campuses,” says Arthur. “We hope to be doing more of that in the future.”

In a desert environment where energy is at a premium, the District is excited to be able to take control of its energy consumption, reduce costs, and help the environment.

“For more than four years we have been dedicated to reducing energy usage,” says Arthur. “If we can do it with clean, renewable power, that’s the best of both worlds.”