Israel Rios, left, and Armando Gutierrez from Concrete Done With Love work on steel solar panel supports at Thornydale Elementary School. Marana Unified School District is installing solar power at all of its schools.

Ron Medvescek / Arizona Daily Star

The Marana Unified School District will install solar panels at all of its schools as part of its larger goal for energy efficiency.

The district wants to cut costs in utilities, which officials say are the second largest expenditure. The savings could be diverted to a “better purpose,” said Dan Contorno, chief financial officer.

Eight schools already have solar power with the help of Tucson Electric Power’s renewable energy credit. Nine remaining schools, including the new school being built in the Gladden Farms community, will have solar power installed by the end of the year, he said.

This year’s project is funded by federal renewable energy programs.

The solar panels at the nine schools are projected to save the district about $175,000 a year, Contorno said. The project for the first eight schools to have solar panels had a projected savings of $4 million in 20 years.

Utility rates are climbing, he said. “We’ve been able to really absorb that by really doing energy savings projects.”

The district also implemented a behavioral energy conservation program, which trained employees to make sure energy is not wasted when the district’s buildings are not occupied.

Another part of the installing the solar panels is the educational component, said Denise Coronado, principal of MCAT (Marana Career and Technical) High School, which was one of the first eight schools to get solar panels.

The installations come a display panel, which the MCAT High School has put in the front lobby. The panel shows real-time data on how much solar energy the panels are producing, weather conditions in the area and a schematic on how sunlight turns into energy.

Students have stopped by to ask questions about how the panels work or why on a particular day, the energy output was lower than usual, Coronado said. That’s the kind of curiosity that she wants to encourage.

“We talk about students being lifelong learners,” she said. “What that means is that we encourage them to be curious about the world around them.”

Contact reporter Yoohyun Jung at 573-4243 or On Twitter: @yoohyun_jung