If you are a typical PG&E residential customer in Manteca you are going to end up paying $110 more for electricity in the 12-month period ending June 30, 2020 than in the previous fiscal year.
Compare that to the Manteca Unified School District with 37 campuses and almost 25,000 students. The district will only pay $1,419 more in the current fiscal year ending June 30 than they did in the 2019-2019 fiscal year.
What seems like an improbability was made possible by the district’s decision more than six years ago to go solar.
Manteca Unified paid $2,189,585 to PG&E last school year after solar essentially flat-lined their annual energy costs.
To illustrate how the solar project has flattened district costs, the current budget has set aside $2,291,000 for PG&E payments. That’s only $1,419 more than last year.
Manteca Unified paid PG&E just $17,000 more for electricity in 2019 than they would have five years prior if they hadn’t installed solar at 25 of their 37 campuses plus the district office complex.
The first-year that all of the solar was in place was 2014. The value of the power Manteca Unified used — both solar generated and provided by PG&E — was the equivalent of issuing the for-profit utility a check for $2,172,790. The district paid PG&E $773,468.82 for electricity in 2014.
And while the MUSD just like everyone else isn’t immune from PG&E rate increases, not only are they not paying PG&E for the electricity that solar panels generate but they are also not paying more per kilowatt hour to generate electricity from their solar installations.
The means the PG&E push for a massive 12.5 percent rate hike to modernize its aging and dilapidated transmission and distribution lines to avoid causing wildfires such as the one the utility’s equipment did in Butte County in 2018 that killed 85 people, destroyed 14,000 homes and burned more than 5,000 other structures won’t hit the MUSD budget as hard as it would if the district had not installed solar.
“The big advantage is cost avoidance,” noted Manteca Unified Superintendent Clark Burke.
When the $32 million project was started in 2012 the conservative projection called for $48 million in district savings over 25 years.
The initial year of cost avoidance of $1.4 million has grown since 2015 to the point it is now pushing $1.8 million a year. The cost avoidance — general fund revenue — goes primarily to paying off the 15-year loans to install the systems. The rest of the savings is reflected in money that is not needed to pay PG&E bills that have been growing at a historic 4 to 6 percent annual pace since the dawn of the century.
The difference between what PG&E charges after “truing up” what excess electricity the district solar panels end up selling to the utility has allowed the district to slash what their PG&E bill would have been without solar by 39.9 percent. The district still has 15 year loans on each installation they are paying off. The real savings— until such time the loans are paid off — comes in the form of not having to absorb PG&E rate increases that happen almost on an annual basis as well as being able to sell PG&E power generated during weekends, holidays, and summer vacation when the schools are empty.
Because of that with each passing year of PG&E rate hikes, the district realizes solid savings once the loan payments are made that they can spend for other purposes.
And while avoiding increased PG&E costs has saved significant money, once the solar panel systems are paid off the district savings will increase significantly whittling away the $750,000 to $900,000 a year they have been paying after solar installations stabilized their costs.
In reality, the district would be financially astute when it gets to that point to squirrel away most of the savings enjoyed after the loans are retired to go toward replacement panels or new installations.
Such a strategy for all practical purposes flat lines the district’s electricity bill. The year-to-year increase in power costs that now occurs can be traced either to increased demand as student population grows or weather issues such years when numerous rainy days impair solar power generation.
The increase demand in recent years includes 25,000 electronic devices. Based on various studies the tablets consume between $1.36 and $2 of electricity in a given year when unit is recharged. That is more than 50 percent less than a typical laptop that uses 72 kilowatt hours of electricity a year for recharging.
The board’s goal when they went solar was to avoid 4 to 6 percent annual PG&E bill hikes that had been happening in previous years to stop increased energy costs from eating into the general fund and forcing cuts elsewhere. The solar initiative has accomplished that goal.
The prospect a 12.5 percent hike in 2020 — and even more rate hikes designed to modernize the PG&E system and minimize wildfire threats — means the projected cost avoidance of $48 million over 25 years when the solar systems were installed is likely to soar past $60 million.
The district continues to explore whether new technology has made solar installation practical at other locations. The district’s ongoing modernization effort also involves taking a look at ways additional solar can be installed that is cost effective.
One possible project is atop the new large gym seating 2,250 that is being built at Manteca High.
To contact Dennis Wyatt, email email@example.com