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MDUSD interviews four solar bidders

By Theresa Harrington
Friday, September 10th, 2010 at 12:52 pm in Education, Mt. Diablo school district, Theresa Harrington.

By Theresa Harrington
At the invitation of Superintendent Steven Lawrence, I sat in on one of four interviews of solar companies conducted by the Mt. Diablo school district, in its quest to build one of the largest K-12 solar projects in the country.
The interviews took place Thursday and included all of the companies that responded to the district’s Request for Proposals: SolarCity, Vanir/Parsons, Roebbelen and Sunpower.
The interview panel included Pete Pedersen (former assistant superintendent for administrative services, who is now working as a consultant on the project), general counsel Greg Rolen, three members of the district’s Measure C bond oversight committee (John Parker, Marc Willis and Rick Callaway), and four “solar experts” (Russell Driver of Newcomb Anderson McCormick, who is helping to facilitate the district’s California Solar Initiative evaluation program; Kathleen McKee, a partner at Fagan, Freidman & Fulfrost and a member of the Green Technology Advisory Board; Bruce Kerns, managing director in public finance for Stone & Youngberg, one of the district’s bond underwriters; and Anna Van Degna, vice president in Stone and Youngberg’s public finance department).
The panel expects to present its informal recommendations to the board during a special study session from 6-9 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 16. It will finalize its recommendations Sept. 28.
Trustees expect to approve the solar contract Oct. 12, according to a memo Lawrence sent to parents. In the memo, Lawrence apologized to the community for any “misunderstanding or misperception” his meetings (reported in the Times) with Chevron solar executives may have caused.
“I am committed to keep every step of this solar project transparent and accessible to the public,” he wrote. “In order to ensure transparency, we will post all meetings and decisions on the district’s website.”
Pedersen has promised to provide me with the executive summaries from each of the firms. Without that information, it was a bit difficult to follow the interview of SolarCity, which I attended.
The firm proposed a system slightly smaller than what the district requested, in part because of site constraints and in part because SolarCity executives said the district might not need to build such a large system, since it cannot be compensated for over-production.
The firm promised to offset current PG&E use by an average of 95 percent and suggested building the projects in three phases, to be completed by mid-April, 2012. The solar panels would be installed on carports instead of on school roofs, according to the proposal.
SolarCity didn’t include projections for increased energy demands after the district installs air conditioning at several sites. The company also hadn’t estimated energy savings over 25-years, but promised to get such an estimate to the district.
If SolarCity’s project doesn’t produce the savings estimated, the company agreed to pay the difference between projections and actuals at 14-cents per kilowatt hour.
Unfortunately, I was unable to sit in on the other three interviews, because of time constraints.
Are you satisfied with the district’s process for choosing its solar vendor?

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  • Realia

    One name is missing on the interview board: MDUSD School Board member Gary Eberhart. Didn’t he just get $983.75 to take a class to become a “solar expert” for the district (and, only coincidentally, for his new job working for Seward Shreder Construction as Vice President of Solar Business Development)? It seems like solar expert Eberhart would have been part of the interview panel. Was Eberhart present and his name omitted from the list, or was he busy enjoying his new job that tax dollars helped him get?

  • Joe Smith

    Realia,

    Excellent question. This doesn’t seem to jibe with what Eberhart has been saying about why he was chosen to take the class.

    Does anyone know anything more?

  • tharrington

    Eberhart was not part of the selection panel, but he will review the proposals tomorrow night and will ultimately be involved in the final selection. In the materials I’ve seen, his company Seward Shreder Construction is not listed as a partner or part of the project team.
    However, some of the companies stress their intention to work with “local contractors” who are unnamed.
    Eberhart’s company donated $25,000 to the Measure C campaign (before he was hired) and Seward Schreder’s father’s company, Jack Schreder & Associates, donated $2,000 to the campaign.
    Eberhart recently abstained from voting on a $25,000 contract for Jack Schreder & Associates to perform a school closure study, saying he is currently working with a relative of the person the district was entering into contract with. Board President Paul Strange lauded Schreder & Associates, saying the firm has done work for the district during the past 15 years.
    In a response to a request for information about this work, CFO Bryan Richards wrote that the district paid Schreder & Associates $12,985.22 for a developer fee study in May.
    “The District’s accounting system only has data back to 2001/2002 school year,” Richards wrote. “During that time, the firm has done several different studies, including demographics, State Facilities eligibility, annual Developer Fees Justification, etc. Over the 9-year period, the district has spent a total of $305,333 with the firm.
    Seward L. Schreder Construction is not in the District’s vendor database. There is no record of them receiving a payment from the district in the past 9 years.”
    Eberhart has said he took the UC Berkeley Extension course titled “Advanced Solar PV System Design and Project Management” to gain expertise for the district. He also lists “Solar Photovoltaic Design and Project Management” as one of his professional specialties on his LinkedIn profile: http://www.linkedin.com/in/garyeberhart.

  • Doctor J

    Eberhart’s “Linkedin” profile link doesn’t work.

  • tharrington

    I don’t know why it didn’t work. Here it is again: http://www.linkedin.com/in/garyeberhart.
    If it still doesn’t work, just choose the second option here: http://www.google.com/search?hl=en&source=hp&q=linkedin+gary+eberhart&aq=f&aqi=&aql=&oq=&gs_rfai=CJUldb3OSTMKIOKmsoAS3sKG1CwAAAKoEBU_Qf63h.

    This is his LinkedIn summary:

    “Gary Eberhart’s Summary
    My objective is to utilize my knowledge of the functioning of school districts in the State of California along with my knowledge of solar photovoltaic energy production and my comprehensive construction knowledge to provide service to school districts in their effort to reduce general fund expenditures while securing a financially secure future. I have served my own school district as a Member of the Board of Education for 15 years and I am passionate about improving the educational environments of students Statewide.

    Gary Eberhart’s Specialties:
    **Certified LEED AP**
    Solar Photovoltaic Design and Project Management**
    California Licensed General Contractor**
    Construction Management**”