SUSD Superintendent Manny Valenzuela announced this morning the district isn't quite yet ready for the governing board to vote on a $17 million energy efficiency plan.

The Sahuarita Unified School District governing board was expected to vote tonight on a loan of up to $17 million as part of a plan to make the district more energy-efficient while lowering utility bills.

However, Valenzuela said there are still details that need to be worked out and he is removing the resolution from tonight's board's agenda. For example, Valenzuela said consultants want to take another look at the district's newest school, Wrightson Ridge, to see what, if any, cost savings are available there given that it was built with the latest technology. 

The board is being asked to take out a 16-year loan. If the board agrees, SUSD schools will have solar canopies, new plumbing fixtures and LED lighting within about 14 months.

The exact loan amount and interest rate are being hammered out, but the interest rate will not exceed 2.65 percent and the loan won't exceed $17 million.

According to Veregy, an engineering and energy services company, SUSD can expect to save $600,000 in utility bills the first year. If the district doesn't save on its utility bills every year, Veregy would be obligated to pay the district the difference, according to state statute. Under the terms of the agreement, the bill will never exceed the savings .

Ron Potts, the district’s energy conservation specialist and a teacher at Anza Trail School, said the $600,000 in first-year savings is a conservative estimate. At the end of the year, an independent analysis would be done to establish the cost savings.

Lizette Huie, chief financial officer for the district, said the plan would be to take each year's savings to pay off the loan. However, should there be additional, unexpected savings, the district could opt to use them for other projects.

Shannon said that as Trico and TEP's rates increase, he anticipates the amount of savings for the district to increase. He also noted that although utility companies are no longer offering the incentives they once did for those installing solar systems, the cost of the systems have decreased so much, it more than makes up for the lack of financial incentives, at least when it comes to large scale projects.

The school district began investigating the possibility of going solar in 2018. On Thursday, the school district invited Matt Shannon from Urban Energy Solutions, and Randy Falconer, principal of Midstate Energy, to discuss the $17 million plan with parents and community members during a meeting at the SUSD auditorium that was live-streamed on Facebook. UES and Midstate Energy fall under the Veregy umbrella.

Veregy is a Phoenix-based company comprised of other companies that specialize in providing eco-friendly infrastructure upgrades for schools, city government, healthcare organizations, commercial buildings and federal facilities.

SUSD Superintendent Manny Valenzuela described the proposed plan as a "significant opportunity" for the district to achieve the highest level of energy efficiency. Utility bills tend to be somewhat unpredictable and installing solar canopies and upgrading the district's electrical and water systems would help mitigate or stabilize those costs, he said.

During Thursday's meeting, Shannon said if solar canopies were installed at each of the district's nine schools, they could provide 80 percent of the district's electricity. Essentially, that is the equivalent of taking 918 cars off the road or powering 732 homes for a year, he said.

The unused power would flow back into the electrical power grids of TEP and Trico, thereby reducing the district's energy costs.

At the same time the solar canopies would be installed, Falconer said the district's lights would be replaced with LED lighting, and toilets, urinals and faucets would be retrofitted with more efficient equipment. In addition, Veregy would begin to replace the district's HVAC units, starting with the least-efficient ones first.

Right now, the district has numerous hot and cold spots throughout each of the campuses. Falconer said the new equipment would be standardized, provide consistent temperatures and help reduce the district's carbon footprint.

The district would also be provided STEM, or Science, Technology, Engineering and Math curriculum, that could be used to teach students at all grade levels about the steps being taken, Shannon said.

If a resolution is passed Wednesday, the project would start this summer and be wrapped up within 14 months.

Tucson Unified School District, Tanque Verde School District, Sunnyside School District and Amphitheater Unified District all have installed solar canopies. The Continental School District went solar in 2010. The school district purchases its energy from Continental Energy Services.

Kim Smith | 520-547-9740

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