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The goal: Saving green
MUSD pursues green strategies that pencil out
electric cars zchool copy
Nissan Leaf vehicles charging Wednesday at the Manteca Unified district office complex.

Reducing the carbon footprint of Manteca Unified School District is as much about saving green as it is being green.

Just a stone’s throw away Wednesday afternoon at the district office complex from where school farm students grow crops for cafeteria meals as well as where a cutting edge energy efficient classroom sits were five Nissan all electric Leaf plug-in vehicles being charged under a canopy of solar panels.

The Leafs — leased with a $75,000 clean air grant from the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District — were too good of a deal to pass up. They are perfect for in-district trips where administrators need to visit campuses.

During the past two years the five Leaf vehicles have logged 21,013 miles requiring 839 charge-ups. They have saved 698 gallons of gasoline and avoided the creation of 2,336 kilograms of greenhouse gases.

Their range, however, is limited to 100 miles or so per charge.

It is one of the reasons why last year when the district needed to replace aging Ford Tempos they opted to lease three Chevrolet Cruzes that get up to 28 miles per gallon city driving and 42 gallons per mile on highway driving. The three Cruzes already have 17,192 miles

The other reason has to do with saving green.

While the Leafs need minimal maintenance, under terms of their leases when work is needed that they must be taken to a dealership in Elk Grove. That entails sending a district worker with the vehicle.

The Chevrolet Cruzes, on the other hand, can have routine maintenance performed in house.

District Superintendent Jason Messer noted leasing vehicles have financial and practical advantages.

“Leasing vehicles means our employees can have the most current innovation in vehicle safety,” Messer said.

It also means the district can take advantage of newer vehicles that tend to have significantly improved gas mileage.

The relatively low mileage the district puts on the vehicles coupled with avoiding expensive major maintenance that comes with buying and holding into a vehicles for years pencils out as a cost savings in the long haul for taxpayers.

 In short, the district doesn’t simply rush into a greener way of doing business unless it saves taxpayers in the long run.

That approach is reflected in the district wide solar project that placed panels only where they would be the most cost effective. The sun shaved $1.4 million off the Manteca Unified electricity bill during the first full year that solar panels were in place at 25 campuses and the district office complex. District savings will continue to increase whenever PG&E rate hikes are approved. Also when the solar installation is paid off savings will soar.

When the project was started in 2012 the conservative projection called for $48 million in district savings over 25 years. Current trends show that the district could easily exceed that number.

On the other hand the district has been cautious about saving money by reducing the use of potable drinking water by putting in place non-potable irrigation wells. After electricity, water ranks as one of the most expensive costs in running the district after salaries and benefits.

An irrigation well that weans the district off expensive city water has only gone in at one campus so far. That’s because the cost savings aren’t yet enough to justify the expense of additional irrigation wells.

The district, though, periodically monitors water use and costs against drilling expenses and other factors so when it becomes feasible the board could consider drilling wells.