Thursday, July 24, 2014         

 Print   Email   Comment | View 25 Comments   Most Popular   Save   Post   Retweet

State plan puts solar in all public schools

By Mary Vorsino

LAST UPDATED: 01:39 a.m. HST, Oct 31, 2012

In what could become the largest solar power project of its kind in the nation, the Department of Education is proposing to install photovoltaic panels on every public school in Hawaii over the next five years in a bid to cut electricity costs and move the state closer to its renewable energy goals.

Officials also believe the proposed system, which would require little to no upfront costs from the state, will eventually be able to generate surplus power with profits that could go back into schools.

In the first year of implementation alone, the DOE estimates it could cut its spending on electricity by as much as $5 million.

Within five years the DOE hopes to have slashed its $47 million annual power bill in half, and believes a number of schools will be able to get most of their energy needs from solar power.

The plan comes as the DOE is spending more on electricity, even as its energy use declines.

In the 2007-2008 fiscal year, DOE schools and facilities used 147 million kilowatt-hours of electricity at a cost of $38 million.

By 2011-2012, usage had declined by nearly 11 percent — to 131 million kilowatt-hours — but the DOE's electric bill had climbed 24 percent to $47 million.

Ray L'Heureux, DOE assistant superintendent for facilities and support services, said after studying similar solar power projects around the country, he concluded the Hawaii plan is feasible — and unprecedented. "Nobody has done this yet to this size and scale," he said.

The plan would also include efforts to install more energy-efficient components in schools, and dovetail with a more robust sustainability curriculum for all students and career and technical training for high-schoolers.

Hawaii's school system isn't alone in eyeing solar power. In recent years hundreds of elementary and secondary schools and university campuses around the nation have turned to photovoltaic systems to cut electricity costs, pouring the dollars they save into other expenses at a time when education funding is shrinking.

Monique Hanis, spokes­woman for the Solar Energy Industries Association, a Washington, D.C.-based trade group, said Hawaii's plan is "one of the most ambitious we've seen."

She said she was unaware of any other case of an entire school district moving to solar power.

But, she noted, other states have emerged as leaders in installing solar power systems on school campuses.

In California, 123 schools have solar power, and 40 more are installing the technology, according to the association. New Jersey has 259 public and private schools with solar power, and more than 40 schools in Arizona have installed photovoltaic systems.

Earlier this year Hawaii announced solar power pilot projects at schools on Kauai and Oahu. In all, solar panels will be installed or have already been installed at nearly 40 schools.

The pilots were developed under power purchase agreements, with the DOE paying no upfront costs. Instead, a third-party financing company owns the solar power systems and sells the electricity to the department over the 20-year life of the agreement.

On Oahu the DOE is paying 19 cents per kilowatt-hour for power under the agreement, well below the 33.6 cents per kilowatt-hour Oahu residents paid this month.

On Kauai, schools are paying 17 cents per kilowatt-hour, compared with a residential rate of 44.9 cents a kilowatt-hour this month.

Gilbert Chun, DOE auxillary services branch administrator, said while the cost savings are important, key to the new statewide project is the education element: Every school, he said, will be able to take advantage of the solar "laboratory" on its rooftop.

He noted that the plan also calls for the installation of small wind turbines when possible.

"You can see where they (students) can start to learn about energy efficiency and generation," Chun said.

Elias Ali, principal of Radford High, one of the schools in the Oahu pilot program, said his campus is already looking into opportunities to weave the solar panels into the curriculum. "There is a potential beyond being a money saver," he said.

Like the pilots under way, Hawaii's statewide plan calls for signing a master power purchase agreement with a vendor for a 20-year period, after which time the panels will probably need to be replaced.

The vendor, who will likely be selected before the end of the school year, will install panels at all 256 Hawaii schools by the fifth year of the agreement.

The project is scheduled to kick off in the coming school year with an audit of schools to pinpoint potential measures to increase energy efficiency, such as by replacing energy-hogging appliances.

Under the agreement, the DOE will buy solar power from the vendor at a reduced rate. And because of the size of the planned project, the DOE also believes the plan will generate revenue when excess power is sold.

But officials do not yet have good estimates of how much the excess power will yield. L'Heureux said projections put the profits anywhere from $16 million to $88 million annually, but stressed those figures are preliminary.

He noted that the plan would put the DOE well on its way toward a goal of using 90 percent clean energy by 2040.

The DOE has met with the state Public Utilities Commission to discuss the plan, and will sit down with Hawaiian Electric Co. soon, L'Heureux said.

HECO spokesman Darren Pai had no comment on the plan because HECO had not yet reviewed it, but said, "We support the DOE's overall goals of controlling its energy costs."

 Print   Email   Comment | View 25 Comments   Most Popular   Save   Post   Retweet

You must be subscribed to participate in discussions
By participating in online discussions you acknowledge that you have agreed to the TERMS OF SERVICE. An insightful discussion of ideas and viewpoints is encouraged, but comments must be civil and in good taste, with no personal attacks. Because only subscribers are allowed to comment, we have your personal information and are able to contact you. If your comments are inappropriate, you may receive a warning, and if you persist with such comments you may be banned from posting. To report comments that you believe do not follow our guidelines, email commentfeedback@staradvertiser.com.
Leave a comment

Please login to leave a comment.
tiki886 wrote:
In any business plan, you cannot predict costs and revenues accurately beyond 3 to 5 years. Only a fool would sign a 20 year contract based on too many variables that affect the global market for cheaper energy. Do these fools ever think about what LNG would do the costs and revenues of solar? May I have another Wonder Concert please?
on October 31,2012 | 04:49AM
palani wrote:
I agree that unleashed CNG, LNG, and domestic oil reserves would dramatically lower our electricity generation costs, but the key word is "unleashed". We allow ourselves to get locked into shortsighted "green energy" initiatives such as ethanol, solar, and wind at the risk of mssing out on evolving technologies that maximize the use of these abundant, proven resources.

However, in this case the DOE is wisely engaging a third party to assume the equipment and installation costs, in return for a reduced kwh charge. Twenty years in Hawaii is nothing. It will probably take us that long to accept that conventional fuels offer the best solution to low cost energy independence.

on October 31,2012 | 06:25AM
GreenGoddess68 wrote:
mmm.. what is longer term - the sun shining, the wind blowing, or global oil production that has flatlined, with a 4-fold increase in prices since 2000?
on October 31,2012 | 01:46PM
GreenGoddess68 wrote:
The costs of solar are eminently predictable. After the upfront cost, the ongoing running costs are pretty close to zero. And in fact, 20 year solar PPA contracts are pretty much standard fare, and have helped boost solar power across US. LNG is the real Fantasy Island, built off a energy resource that has massive swings in price, is prone to disruption, and environmentally costly. Schools powering us with clean energy? Bring it on!
on October 31,2012 | 01:44PM
tiki886 wrote:
Wrong. What makes renewable energy financially viable is the artificially high cost of petroleum products of oil and gas. If gas and oil were allowed to find its true price equilibrium at a cost of $30 per barrel and $2.50 per gallon for gasoline, free from political manipulation, the alternative energy industry would collapse overnight.

What the renewable energy industry represents is the building of the equivalent of prematurely building desalination water plants around the world which is hundreds of years away from being necessary.

on October 31,2012 | 04:47PM
SomebodyElse wrote:
You are so off. If gasoline truly costs $30 a barrel then that's what the market will bare. Please provide me the studies that suggest oil should cost $30 a barrel.
on October 31,2012 | 09:47PM
Anonymous wrote:
Solar can projects its cost real easy for the next 20 year - they're essentially zero. That's why so much solar being installed today is through PPA's of 20 years or more. LNG? That's a pipe-dream built on a sea of gas that was unleashed by a boom that has just gone bust. Shale gas & LNG are no long-term energy solution, same price volatility and supply disruption as oil. Roll out the sun-powered schools please!
on October 31,2012 | 02:29PM
tiki886 wrote:
The last time I checked, the sun was only working during the day. And there is no battery technology that can capture the energy required for all of our needs at every angle of latitude of the earth's seasonal orientation and account for cloudy days. Almanacs have already proven how inefficient and unreliable solar power can be. And have you ever heard of a "solar powered" jet plane? Solar and wind power has been inefficient since the beginning of the 20th century and it continues to be the fantasy of the Left.

China is laughing, knowing they don't have to invade America to conquer America. They only have to expand their economy based on cheap petroleum and bankrupt our Treasury and solar chip manufacturers such as Solyndra and dozens of other "losers" that are based on Obama's crony capitalism which is the same thing as socialism. Socialist/Marxist/Communist idealogues have always created mass economic chaos and collapse whenever they are in charge.

on October 31,2012 | 05:09PM
SomebodyElse wrote:
The last time I checked, the majority of school functions occur during the day...the majority of power use occurs during the day. To suggest that solar energy for many of the schools in Hawaii is inefficient boggles the mind. Please, go surfing and regain perspective.
on October 31,2012 | 09:50PM
GreenGoddess68 wrote:
Germany is cold, cloudy and northerly, right? And getting up to 40% of its power from solar some days! And that's power produced when demand is at a peak. Variability isn't a problem when the grid is smarter, what's dumb is relying on ever more expensive, polluting and insecure fossil fuels.
on October 31,2012 | 10:31PM
Kalli wrote:
Unless there is a change, HECO does not pay for excess power generated from your panels. HECO takes the power for free. The best you can do is an $18 bill for administration from HECO they will not pay you for your power.
on October 31,2012 | 05:08AM
goodday wrote:
They do if you sign up for a feed in tariff. The schools will probably not export any power (get credited) anyway because they mostly consume power during the day because of their large loud during peak sun hours.
on October 31,2012 | 05:20AM
goodday wrote:
should have read that over haha
on October 31,2012 | 05:21AM
GreenGoddess68 wrote:
Don't be so sure - there are a lot of days when 'school's out' (holidays, weekends), plus solar is getting more efficient all the time. If they get their sums right, and get the right tech, DOE could be getting money from HECO from selling excess power, and schools could get budget boost. Could be the start of the democratic energy revolution!
on October 31,2012 | 10:18PM
bender wrote:
Since DOE will be contracting the installations it means the solar tax credits will go to the solar providers. This is the type of activity that makes big demands on the solar tax credits and creates the demand for an end of the credits, including those going to residential units. DOE and the state should also remember that one of the major solar providers has falsified records to reflect a higher cost when they install and take the credits themselves as opposed to what they charge their customers.
on October 31,2012 | 05:45AM
false wrote:
Wow! Now we can have air con in all the rooms. Good for students to study. If only the air con people knew more than "let's try this fix". Trial and error is costly to the state so we need to train some better people. Something is wrong with the mentality at large. Does that mean photo voltaic support is going to be "trial and error fix" contracts? The game is huge.
on October 31,2012 | 05:50AM
McCully wrote:
How about installing panels at UH? I hate to see their electricity bill.
on October 31,2012 | 07:06AM
cabot17 wrote:
The whole UH system should follow the lead of the DOE and install solar panels throughout the state. Maybe this can help reduce the dramatic increases in tuition.
on October 31,2012 | 08:15AM
mwells0525 wrote:
HECO is a publicly traded company, they only have shareholders in mind,, NOT US .... HECO will milk it to the end- 2030... then elec will be wayyyy cheaper ... solar now is great idea,,, wind is dead and ugly & LNG is still 10 yrs away... HECO doesnt want green energy, they are being forced to comply...
on October 31,2012 | 07:53AM
GreenGoddess68 wrote:
If the DOE get it right, and are producing power from their schools, they'll be selling electricity back to HECO. HECO may have a split personality on solar & other distributed energy - after all, it rewrites their business model. But the State wants green energy, and HECO will have to adapt (whether forced from outside or not). There's a profitable way forward for them as a service provider (they've got the kit and expertise to deliver & distribute & manage the new grid) - they've just got to change from thinking only about volume & 'shifting units', to helping Hawaii free itself from fossil fuel dependency. But is that an 'ask' too far for a co like HECO?
on October 31,2012 | 10:13PM
roy2335 wrote:
Let's just hope that a local firm gets this contract. Show that you have faith in the local business community, and make that commitment DOE...
on October 31,2012 | 10:05AM
Bdpapa wrote:
Good idea and long overdue!
on October 31,2012 | 11:57AM
LadyNinja wrote:
This is really a no brainer! This should have been done long ago. Maybe in cases of residential credit for kwh, we could dedicate a certain amount of usage from our electric production to go towards school electrical credits for the DOE. In this regard, it could be state write off for the customers that DONATE a percentage of credits to schools that need it or are in production, this way, everyone saves money! Solar City is the only company that I know of which has the power and employees to make this happen in a timely fashion.
on October 31,2012 | 01:18PM
false wrote:
Wait four years, cheap Chinese solar will be here.
on October 31,2012 | 04:28PM
localguy wrote:
Word is bureaucrats and union bosses at HSTA, BOE, DOE plan to use the saved money for bonuses to their clueless leaders, no money will go to the students. Why should it, none of these organizations truly care about students. Recent article on HSTA power failed to mention anything good about taking care of students, just taking care of union members. This is what they do.
on November 1,2012 | 12:20AM
Latest News/Updates