Solar Zone: More Schools, Business Become Generating Plants

2013-10-19 16:49:42
Yuma is considered one of the sunniest places in the world, so why not
put some of that sunshine to good use, reasoned one businessman who
installed one solar system that was so successful, he installed a second
one three years later.
“It just pencils out for me,” said Richard Sprague, owner of Sprague’s
Sports. He now has a total of 850 solar panels, a system he figures
saves him 65 to 70 percent of his electrical needs over the course of a year.
For him, it was a financial decision. It’s an added bonus that solar power is good for the environment.
“We live in the desert,” he said. “It makes sense.”
It doesn’t hurt that he now has some shaded parking at his business with the installation of canopies to hold
additional solar panels to those on his rooftop.
It seems that solar projects are popping up all over the community at businesses, schools and even Yuma
City Hall.
What makes “dollars and sense” for the solar projects are the various incentives and programs to help cover
upfront costs, they agree. But they also enjoy saving on their electric bills, protection from rate increases and
the satisfaction of being “green” with at least some of their power needs.
“I would encourage any business to explore it and see if it makes financial sense for them,” Sprague advised.
That answer obviously was “yes” for Joe Fisher Jr. for his car dealerships. He now has solar systems on his
Chevrolet, Dodge and Hyundai dealerships and the Chevrolet body shop. All together, they generate close to 6
megawatts of power, he said, enough to provide probably 50 percent of his businesses’ electrical needs.
He figures that with federal and state tax credits, renewable energy incentives offered by Arizona Public
Service Co. and savings on his electrical bills, the projects will likely pay for themselves in about three years
for a product that will last 20 years.
“It’s a good way to make electricity,” he said. “It saves money and helps the environment, all at the same
Solarizing the schoolhouse
Meanwhile, schools from Yuma to Flagstaff are turning to solar to power classrooms with energy from the
sun, with the potential benefits it can bring to managing their budgets and the positive example it gives
students in creating a clean energy future.
In just five years, more than 300 schools across Arizona from Yuma to Flagstaff have committed to solar
energy development that will add more than 100 megawatts of power to the grid, APS reported.
Some of those installations are part of APS’ Schools and Government program, originally designed to help
those groups that can’t take advantage of federal tax incentives because they are technically nonprofits and
have no tax liability, explained Rex Stepp, APS renewable energy program leader.
In those cases, APS will own the systems and sell the power to the schools at a negotiated rate.
However, most customers enter into a power purchase agreement with a third party that would fund the
upfront cost and own the system, selling the power to the school or government through a negotiated set rate
over 20 years, Stepp said.
It seems like every week another school – or several – in Yuma submits plans or obtains permits to install a
solar system. In fact, Yuma County has the second-most installations to generate the second-most
megawatts of power among schools around the state, APS reported. Of the 327 total school installations10/22/13 Print Article: Solar Zone: Moreschools, business become generating plants 2/2
statewide, Yuma County accounts for 32 with a generating capacity of 11.2 megawatts.
Crane Elementary School District is among them. Through purchase power agreements, the district now has
solar power arrays at five campus and is nearing completion on four others, said Dale Ponder, finance
director. When completed, all but Ronald Reagan School will have solar systems and the district is working
on getting incentives for it.
He said the systems are built to provide up to 85 percent of the school’s power needs. The arrays are being
installed in the form of covered parking and shaded playground.
The systems are expected to save the district nearly $100,000 over the next 25 years, Ponder said. In
addition, the district is realizing a savings of $270,000 a year through various energy managements it
undertook in 2010, such as light and energy controls so the lights go off when classrooms are empty.
“That’s money that can go into classrooms and wages,” he said. “Reducing dollars for utilities brings more
money into student achievement.”
The solar projects also have a curriculum component, he said. So students learn about renewable energy in
the classroom, then get to see it in motion.
Sun shines bright on city hall
The city of Yuma also is going solar. It currently has two systems, a 30-kilowatt system at the Yuma Civic
Center and a 100-kilowatt system at City Hall, said Ricky Rinehart, operations administrator. They were both
funded with a grant from APS so they cost the city “zero dollars” to install.
The City Hall system has saved the city almost $50,000 since being installed in 2011, while the Civic Center
system has saved $17,400, he said. In addition, the city has received more than $44,000 in rebates to date.
Two much larger systems are coming soon. In July, the Yuma City Council approved a power purchase
agreement with REC Solar Inc. to develop a 549-kilowatt system at the Desert Dunes Water Reclamation
Facility and the same size system at Agua Viva Water Treatment Plant.
“Absolutely … it’s a big win for the city,” Rinehart said. “It helps predict power costs for the two facilities over
the next 20 years.”
APS is under a mandate by the Arizona Corporation Commission to get 15 percent of its retail sales power
from renewable sources by 2015, Stepp said. Up to 70 percent of that will come from such solar projects as
the just completed 280 megawatt Solana system in Gila Bend, built by a private company that will sell all the
power to APS. Another 30 percent of the required renewable energy would come from distribution systems
such as residential and commercial projects.
But those projects are costly, he said. That’s why APS has been offering incentives. It also is helping, he said,
that the cost of solar panels is half what it was only a few short years ago.
But it’s not all about money, Stepp said. “People like the idea of being green. That’s a good feeling for a lot of