The Tucson Unified School District is bringing solar energy to 43 campuses, with a goal of reducing its carbon footprint while potentially saving more than $11 million over the next 20 years.
The solar panels will generate about 80 percent of the electricity required at each site.
TUSD will not be responsible for the operation, maintenance or monitoring costs of the system at each school. They will be owned Constellation, a nationwide solar energy company. TUSD will pay only for the energy produced by the systems.
The deal will save the district money because the Constellation rate is less than what the district now pays Tucson Electric Power. TEP will continue to supply the school’s electricity when the solar panels are not producing enough.
Although the district already has 17 school sites with solar systems, the installation of 38,000 solar panels is seen as the first step to significantly reduce electricity use, said TUSD spokeswoman Cara Rene.
“Being more green, which is obviously better for the planet, and the substantial cost savings are key for TUSD in pursuing this,” Rene said.
The 18-month project is expected to save TUSD about $170,000 in the first year and more than $11 million in energy costs over the life of the project.
Construction will be done in phases, starting in the first quarter of 2014. The first sites to go solar will be Erickson, Gale, Henry, Marshall, Soleng Tom and Wheeler elementary schools, and Secrist Middle School. Work is expected to be completed in 2015.
Most of the solar panels will be placed over playgrounds to provide shading; others will be placed in parking lots and on rooftops. Considerations such as preserving large play areas like baseball fields and avoiding the need to remove trees and landscaping have been factored in.
In addition to saving money, TUSD will incorporate an educational component for students to learn about solar electricity and the benefits of renewable energy.
Natural Power and Energy, an Arizona solar company, will oversee construction and financing of the solar services agreement.