SANTA MARIA, Calif. - One by one, solar panels are being installed by construction crews working at four locations in the Santa Maria Joint Union High School District.
It's part of a major solar project currently taking place at three campuses and the district office.
"As a district, we're always looking at ways to save energy and looking out for the environment any way we possibly can, whether it be recycling, the energy side of it, you name it, we're always looking at ways to do our part," said Righetti plant manager Danny Sheridan.
Construction began a few weeks ago and is still ongoing at happening at Righetti, Pioneer Valley, and Delta high schools, as well as the Support Services Center.
The solar panels are being built into newly constructed carports at Righetti and Pioneer Valley. Panels are being placed into an already existing vehicle covering at the district office, while at Delta, they're going into the ground next to the teacher's parking lots.
Once operational, the panels will tap into the power of the sun and save the district an estimated $7 million over the next 25 years.
Electrical costs for the district at the four sites is just under $1 million annually.
"it gives us a lock-in at current costs," said district support services director Gary Wuitschick. "And as we know, utilities usually rise and they don't have increases built into this, so we are stable throughout the whole project."
According to a district release, during the first full school year with the solar system in place, the savings in electric costs will reach an estimated $140,000.
"If we have a savings here, it will offset some other expense that we're going to have and we always have those expenses," said Wuitschick.
A significant bonus for the district is that the solar equipment isn't costing anything.
The district has entered into what's known as a "Power Purchase Agreement" with the provider (OpTerra Energy Services), which is footing the bill for installation.
"That agreement, they are the ones and their companies and investors, are actually the ones that put the money up front to pay for all of it and we pay it back technically by the usage of the electricity, which we were going to purchase anyway from one of the local purveyors," said Wuitschick.
The district has an agreement with OpTerra for 20-years, with an optional 5-year extension.
The district adds Santa Maria High School will likely see solar installations at some point in the future after planned construction is finished.
"We're working through that portion of it first and then we're going to revisit the energy needs at that time and see where we can place them," said Wuitschick.
Installation started a few weeks ago in October and is on schedule to be completed by New Year's Day.
"So we're about a month away," said Sheridan. "When the students return from winter break, the fences will be down, the solar will be up and the parking lot will be back to normal."