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High school solar project delayed with cost and power reduced

Rick Monroe

Special to the Village News

There’s been a price reduction, less electricity, and a completion delay in the contract to build solar panels at Fallbrook High School.

The Fallbrook Union High School District approved the revisions in the original agreement signed nearly a year ago with Baker Electric & Renewables to design, build, and install a carport-mounted solar photovoltaic system at the district’s high school campus. The design-build contract was dated May 23, 2022, for the price of $3,813,122 and the project was expected to be completed by August this year.

Football fans should be able to park under the canopies holding the panels this year, but the panels won’t be producing any power until a year from now because of delays in getting necessary equipment.

The governing board of the district learned of the delays at its March 13 meeting. The board approved a change order that slightly downsized the project.

Matt van Note, commercial solar consultant for the solar company, said that Baker and the district discovered there were easement restrictions on its property affecting the design of the project’s canopy/structural support and layout.

“Once we dug into this a little bit further, we discovered some pretty big easements going right through where a lot of the solar was going to go,” van Note said, explaining there is a water easement with the County of San Diego and another easement with the Fallbrook Public Utilities District.

“I don't know if you guys know a lot about easements, but they take a long time to vacate. It could take a year and a half if we didn't want to add that to the project,” he explained. The re-design solution was to grow the canopies to longer, almost double span.

“That process essentially came to the conclusion of eliminating some of the energy capacity,” van Note said. “Staying within a more conventional existing parking pattern, we've cleared where the easements are.”

The district and contractor also determined that extra-scope work, including installation of additional steel and other materials and certain design and layout modifications, is necessary to complete the project at the desired location.

And it won’t produce as much electricity, but the consultant said the dollar savings in SDG&E payments would remain substantial.

The change order for the project decreased the amount by $246,215, decreasing the contract price to a total of $3,566,907. The district is adding an extended warranty on inverters to 20 years for each inverter. They are also adding five years of preventative maintenance.

With the decreased $246,215 in project costs, as well as $32,914 for the extended warranty and $129,089 for preventative maintenance, the new amount for the project is $3,728,910 – compared to the $3,813,122 figure from last year. The district has secured a loan to pay for the solar project.

A year ago, trustees were told the cost of equipment and financing is offset by the energy cost savings of $19.5 million over 30-years. The district would start realizing a positive “payback period” in 8.1 years.

“Obviously, the system size or capacity has gone down,” van Note said. “The payment on the system has also come down but as a rate it's gone up because of the cost of equipment. Steel inflation is affecting solar just like everything else.”

He also noted that there are additional tax credit incentives available for school districts.

“The first-year annual savings are still tremendous – not as good as they would have been with the giant system – but still pretty good, well over $16 million in electricity savings,” he said.

“Right now, with construction this summer, there are some very long lead times with some electrical equipment,” van Note said. “The medium voltage transformer for the main electrical interconnection is a 45-day lead time.”

“The reality is this project will be built. The canopies will be safely constructed, and the parking lot will be patched back. Everything will look very nice and new like the solar is working, but it'll be waiting on the medium voltage equipment and the panel board. The closeout is expected essentially a year from now.

“We would love to improve that, obviously. We don't get to bill you until we build it, so we're really anxious to do that.

 

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