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?
By Theresa Harrington