Members of the San Ramon Valley Unified School District Board of Education last week examined the needs of the district in terms of how to spend a new bond that will bring millions of construction dollars into district coffers.
In late September, the district was one of several chosen in California as being eligible for a Qualified School Construction Bond (QSCB). The program gives the SRVUSD the opportunity to receive up to $25 million in Tax Credit bond funds, to be used on construction projects within the district. The bonds come with a low interest rate, but must be utilized within three years, with a minimum of 10 percent of any monies used within the first six months.
As they debate whether to take out the debt, school board members are looking at how such funds would be best used. The prevailing opinion of district staff is that the implementation of a district-wide solar array is the plan that provides the best chance of creating a revenue stream for the repayment of the bonds but would also eventually create an annual savings for the district.
"As I've shared with some of you, I wish that my recommendation could be perhaps more powerful and with fewer qualifications," said Enoch. "On one level us making a strong statement about solar energy use and modeling that for our students seems like a natural step for us."
Enoch cautioned the board that there are still a number of questions to be answered with regards to solar. Chief among them is how much energy such an array would generate and how much of a savings it would mean for the district.
Early projections provided by staff show that over 25 years the photovoltaic system would generate 124,673,207 kilowatt/hours of energy. The system cost over that 25 years is estimated at just over $19 million while the cost of purchasing a similar amount of energy from Pacific Gas and Electric would be over $35 million.
Enoch said those numbers are promising, but so far there are no guarantees that the estimates will hold up once the system is in place.
"There are some assumptions that go into this model. It could be right, it could be wrong," Enoch stated. "With that said, I would point out some key elements. I think the board should look at solar as break even. There are some who see it as a money maker. It certainly has a revenue stream. Once you get past the 15 years payout on the debt, there is a chance of annual savings for the district."
Two other projects also have been suggested as possible uses for construction bond money. The Wolf Foundation, the parents group working to improve facilities at San Ramon Valley High School, has asked the board to replace the bleachers at the athletic fields and has also requested that either major improvements be made on the school's existing pool or that a new pool be built.
Wolf Foundation member Chris Carter said he understands the idea of using the bond funds for the solar array and the potential benefits to the district, but he also sees that there are serious needs at the high school that are not being met.
"What I do know is we have two facilities that are desperately in need of being replaced. And if this board would say, 'This is something we can do next year,' I'd be happy and sit down and shut up," Carter said.
Enoch said that they are examining both the bleachers and the pool. He said $150,000 in Measure A funds has been set aside for the bleachers, making them safer for the student population. He said they may be able to look at Measure A for the pool as well, or other possible funding options.
School board members were cautious in approaching the prospect of incurring more debt and filled with questions about the solar project and whether it can do provide the type of power generation that is being described.
"I am pleased that staff is recommending the money be spent," said Trustee Greg Marvel. "But I am glad we are continuing to do our due diligence on this. I want to see where the weak spots are, the holes."
Board President Bill Clarkson said he was leery of putting such a large financial commitment into solar without having a stronger sense of the return on the investment. He also called for the board to enter into discussions with the Town of Danville over the high school swimming pool, to see if there might be some shared cost for the facility improvement.
Ultimately, the board voted to direct staff to continue looking into the solar array, and asked it to come back with more information and an updated recommendation by November. The board will need to make a decision on whether or not it will use the opportunity for the $25 million bond before the Dec. 31 deadline.