Solar Incentives Lure In More Arizona Schools

Arrangements that translate to no installation or maintenance costs have become common tools for schools looking to go solar. But owning solar power systems hasn’t gone completely out of style – certainly not in Arizona.

The Scottsdale Unified School District is in the process of installing 5.5 megawatts (MW) of new solar capacity that it will own, a move made possible in part by a renewable energy incentive program offered through APS, the big electric utility in the state. This looks like a program that’s gaining real traction: Earlier this year we reported on how the Buckeye Union High School District got 4.3-MW’s worth of solar – providing up to 70 percent of the electricity needs for three area high schools – by taking advantage of the same program.

image via Scottsdale Unified School District

Such incentive programs have to be paid for by someone, of course – we assume through APS ratepayers – but the benefits are clear. First, the solar power systems at 11 Scottsdale district schools will mean 176,900 fewer tons of carbon dioxide will be spewed into the air over the next 30 years, according to SunPower, which is installing the systems on district rooftops as well as on shade structures in parking lots (another benefit in sizzling Arizona). That’s the equivalent of removing 31,000 cars from the roads, the company said.

But what probably interested the district’s brass even more was the opportunity to save money – perhaps $25 million over the next 25 years. Apparently it’s money the schools can use.

“This project will allow Scottsdale Unified School District to reduce our electricity costs at the schools receiving these systems by half, to recover valuable funds needed for our academic programs and to pay for upgrades,” Superintendent David J. Peterson said in the SunPower release. “By partnering with SunPower, we are maximizing those savings as well as having clean, renewable energy generated at our schools. It is the right thing to do for our students and our community.”

According to SunPower, the district’s installations costs (even with the APS offsets there were still costs) were financed “through Qualified School Construction Bonds (QSCBs), allowing them to own the systems and receive the full benefit of the energy cost savings and APS incentive payments.”

Pete Danko is a writer and editor based in Portland, Oregon. His work has appeared in Breaking Energy, National Geographic's Energy Blog, The New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle and elsewhere.