Schools refute solar cost claims
Refuting claims made late last year in a handout distributed by critics of the school district’s solar project, Justin Frese, deputy superintendent of the Sonoma Valley Unified School District, said the district will not lose money in the solar program and will instead save an estimated $58.6 million over the next 40 years.
Frese told the school board at Tuesday night’s meeting that a number of the assumptions made in the handout from Nancie and James Ligon were incorrect. The Ligons’ handout suggested that the district would lose $240,000 a year.
“The $500,000 a year savings (on energy bills) is just an estimate,” Frese said. “That doesn’t figure a 4 percent increase each year.” And he pointed out that the rebates from PG&E amounted to $3.7 million over five years – or more than $700,000 a year.
And the biggest assumption that was flawed, Frese said, was that the district would be paying $740,000 a year in interest on the project.
“We’re getting a federal subsidy that pays a portion of the interest,” he said. “And the interest payments aren’t made by the district but by the taxpayers. The school district does not make the interest payments.”
Frese told the board that the district will conservatively save more than $6.5 million in the first five years; more than $26 million over 25 years and more than $58 million over 40 years.
“And that takes into account the solar panel degradation and repairing and replacing inverters,” he added.
Boardmember Helen Marsh questioned Frese about his calculations and the fact that the district has only sold $15 million of the $40 million Measure H bonds that were approved by voters in 2010.
Marsh asked if, when the district sells more bonds and starts working on replacing things such as HVAC units, windows and roofs, the energy savings could increase, and Frese said they would.
“I would have been a lot happier if it (the solar project) was done and turned on in August,” Frese said.
Earlier, he told the board that the project would be online by the end of May – or at least the end of the fiscal year.
Nancie Ligon told the board Frese’s figures on the solar savings were what she and her husband were looking for.
She said if someone had sat down and talked with the couple about their questions, they wouldn’t have had to file numerous FOI (freedom of information) requests with the district.
“It was a lack of communications,” she said. “We sent FOI requests and got a runaround.”
She said she and her husband will sit down and take a look at Frese’s figures.
James Ligon said he and his wife didn’t pay a lot of attention when the district was campaigning for Measure H. “It was a shock to have construction start in our backyard,” he said.
The Ligons live on Woodworth Lane, backing up to the solar field at Adele Harrison Middle School.
“There was no effort to communicate with us,” he said. “But I feel better about the money aspect. We’re still disturbed about the school invading our serenity.”
“This could have been avoided by being better neighbors,” he added.
Marsh apologized and said she was sorry it had become so adversarial.