Solar project still not done
The solar panels at the district office on Railroad Avenue were removed earlier this week so that the brackets can be lowered.
The solar-installation project at the Sonoma Valley Unified School District, that was supposed to take two-plus months, is entering its 13th month – and it’s still not complete and online.
All of the more than 7,100 solar panels are up at the 11 district sites, although the panels at the district office on Railroad Avenue were removed Monday so the supporting structures can be lowered below the adjoining fence line.
At Tuesday night’s school board meeting, Deputy Superintendent Justin Frese told the board that a contractor is being sought to lower the braces so that the panels are below the fence line. But he wasn’t sure how long it would take.
“Once a contractor is selected,” he said Wednesday, “we’ll be able to create a timeline.”
Frese said the final work and testing is going on now.
“Final work to connect the solar is happening at all sites, except for the maintenance yard and the Railroad Avenue sites, which each have some additional work to complete,” he said. “I don’t have a specific schedule when they will be connected, but many of the sites are getting close.”
The district had expected to save about $500,000 a year in utility costs and to receive an additional $500,000 to $600,000 a year for the first five years in rebates from PG&E. Since the project wasn’t online this fiscal year, the district had to use reserves to cover the savings that didn’t materialize.
“The savings we counted on receiving this year from the solar will instead begin next (fiscal) year,” Frese said. “This does mean that we will have a larger deficit, and will lean on reserves to cover the gap until the solar begins to produce electricity.”
The program was plagued by missteps including a supply problem with the vendor of the carport units.
Another problem arose when work had to stop last summer in order to receive approval from the Division of the State Architect on the carport units and the shade structure units. The district was waiting for two separate sets of approval – one for the carports and the other for the shade structures. As of the end of December, the district still hadn’t received approval from the state for the shade units.
Carports were erected at Sonoma Valley High, Adele Harrison Middle School, Flowery Elementary School, the Sonoma Charter School and Sassarini Elementary School.
Shade units were constructed at Prestwood Elementary School, Sassarini Elementary School, El Verano Elementary School, Dunbar Elementary School and Altimira Middle School.
And the district caught a lot of flak from neighbors at both the district office site and the Adele Harrison site because of reflection problems at the district office, and the sight-lines at Adele Harrison.
Tuesday night, Frese told the board that everything is in the process of being connected, but there are still some small things missing such as display monitors.
The $9.6 million design and build contract was awarded to Roebbelen Contracting, a firm out of El Dorado Hills in El Dorado County. The firm was the low bid out of the five the school district received for the system that will produce 3.2 million kilowatt hours a year. The other four bids ranged from a low of $11.4 million to a high of $12.8 million.