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Here comes the sun (power)!
Bright idea will save Manteca schools millions
The ceremonial shovels await the official groundbreaking on the Manteca Unified $30 million solar power initiative on 26 school campuses. - photo by HIME ROMERO

Manteca Unified School District broke ground Thursday in more ways than one.

The groundbreaking ceremonies that took place in the fields behind Golden West Elementary School was not merely to kick off the first phase of the district’s Renewable Energy Efficiency Project, or REEP, with the Golden West campus as the first of 26 campus sites for the ground-mounted and parking-lot solar installations.

The solar project is, more importantly, breaking fiscal grounds that will result in millions of dollars saved for Manteca Unified energy bills. REEP is expected to generate more than $25 million in savings over a period of 25 years.

Here’s how some of those savings will be realized in that span of time.

• MUSD will eventually have ownership of the project resulting in greater financial returns over the 25 years. The district also will be paying 17-year flat payments with ultra-low interest rates of less than 1 percent to the project’s $30 million cost which is coming from the state’s Qualified Zone Academy Bond monies – funds specifically earmarked for renewable energy-saving projects like REEP.

• The project will likewise make the district eligible for California Solar Initiative rebates.

In terms of educational benefits, REEP as an added bonus, will provide the following equipment and tools designed to enhance the district’s energy education curriculum and to provide students with hands-on experience:

• An Environmental Studies Center and Green Fabrication Academy to be housed in a Gen 7 modular building. An example of this state-of-the-art high-performance, low maintenance green Gen 7 modular is located on the grounds of American Modular Systems, maker of the Gen 7 modulars, located on Spreckels Avenue in Manteca.

• Charging stations installed at the district office for electric vehicles.

• Monitors and web pages at all the school sites displaying solar system output.

As part of the agreement that the district inked with IEC Corporation and IES (Indoor Environmental Services) for the REEP project, the companies will also provide the district with educational materials as well as give presentations related to renewable power and energy conservation. They will also participate, and actually have already participated in previous years, with the district’s annual Planet Party – an interactive educational program that teaches sixth graders how to become better stewards of the environment – and L.O.G.I.C. (Leadership on Green Initiatives Committee) events.

With the L.O.G.I.C. and Planet party projects, plus other programs, the district has already started, and realized, a number of energy savings by way of these aggressive energy-conservation steps designed to reduce energy consumption at various school district sites. REEP is moving those efforts even farther, with the installation of the solar panels which are expected to produce enough energy to slash the district’s utility bill by approximately 65 percent. The district’s annual utility bill is $2.3 million.

The solar installations are expected to be all completed by the end of summer 2013.

“It’s good,” Manteca Unified Board of Trustee Manuel Medeiros said of the REEP project. “It’s going to be worth it.”

But he was more cautious about actual numbers as to how much the project will exactly save the district in dollars and cents. “Don’t count the chicks before they hatch,” he said matter-of-factly.

Ground-mounted solar installations, besides Golden West, will be done at the following elementary sites: in Lathrop – Lathrop Elementary, Joseph Widmer, Jr., and Mossdale; in French Camp and Weston Ranch – French Camp Elementary, George Komure and Great Valley; in Manteca - Brock Elliott,  George McParland, Joshua Cowell, New Haven, Nile Garden, Shasta, Stella Brockman, and Veritas. The rest will be parking lot installations.

Light refreshments prepared by Manteca Unified Vocational Academy culinary arts students were served after the groundbreaking ceremony.