Here Comes The Sun

School district plans for new solar array installations

The Santa Fe Public School Board tonight said the district could move forward with plans for new solar array installations at two campuses, so long as they are approved by the utility company PNM.

SFPS would next ask the New Mexico Finance Authority on March 23 for nearly $1 million for the project, which includes a new solar array at the Capital High School campus and a carport array at El Camino Real Community School. Both are estimated to generate a total of 407 kilowatts of solar energy, and will be installed by the company Positive Energy Solar.

The installations are estimated to cost $848,190 and $288,267, respectively. Most of the cost will be covered by a clean energy revenue bond from the state, while the school district will put up $188,031 from a general obligation bond. The district hopes to begin construction on the arrays in May and complete them by September.

If approved, the bond will be the second that SFPS has received through the state's Clean Energy Revenue Bond (CERB) program. Previously, the district received $2.96 million from the New Mexico Financing Authority to build five solar arrays that went operational in the fall of 2016. They now generate electricity at Santa Fe High, Chaparral and Ramirez Thomas elementary schools and other district buildings.

Lisa Randall, the district’s sustainability program coordinator, told the board that the first CERB generated 971 kilowatts of energy for four campuses and saved the district $32,638 on electricity through all of 2017, the first full year the arrays came online. Under the program, 90 percent of utility bill savings generated by CERB-financed solar projects are put toward paying off the debt on the state-issued bond.

"The utility savings [were] slightly smaller and that's because of our peak power demand; we can't control the weather and our cloudy days," Randall told the board. However, she noted that savings came within 97 percent of the district's target.

Most of the solar installations at 11 of the district’s campuses have been funded with $4.17 million in local general obligation bonds. Randall said that the CERB program offered the district a unique way to double its “commitment to the community to build our energy portfolio.”

Board Member Rudy Garcia asked how the sustainability program educates students about solar installations at their schools.

"All our solar arrays are attached to web enabled [with] real-time monitoring, so any community member who's interested in the arrays, that's all available through links on our website," Randall said, noting that the program does not follow any particular curriculum.

Kate Noble, the school board secretary who is also running for mayor, voted with the rest of the board in favor of the project. Earlier in the day, she told SFR that Santa Fe needed to "pursue more solar energy in all our buildings.

"It pays off in the long run and reduces operational costs, and sends the right message to the community," she said.

After the new arrays are built, the district says 20 percent of its total electricity will come from the sun.

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