ARROYO GRANDE, Calif. -

The Lucia Mar Unified School District is gearing up to become one of the most energy efficient districts on the Central Coast. Construction on a solar energy project is underway at several school sites, with more to be built during the summer.

Today the district’s office parking lot was busy getting a facelift. It’s one of seven locations district-wide that will have solar panels soaking up the rays by next school year. The other locations include Nipomo High School, Arroyo Grande High School, Judkins Middle School, Dorothea Lange Elementary, Paulding Middle School, and Dana Elementary.

“One of our board’s big priorities is to continuously seek ways to reduce energy consumption,” said Jeff Dixon, Director of Facilities Maintenance and Operations. “Really all that was left was solar projects, and as long as we could find the right company and produce a project that would give us the right savings, it was a perfect fit.”

That company is Chevron, and the workers are implementing the infrastructure for the district’s Energy Solutions Program. That includes LED lighting in classrooms, better irrigation systems and more. But the solar panels are the hallmark of the program. The school district expects the energy they create will cover most of the district's energy needs.

“The total output the solar will generate is about 1.7 mega-watt hours,” said Dixon. “That, in combination with some of the other stuff we’re doing, like the LED lights, we’re going to offset about 85 percent of the energy consumption that our district has total.”

The district says the panels will essentially pay for themselves. An 18.5-year loan is paying for the system. With the energy savings from the solar panels, the district will, at a minimum, break even for the life of the loan. After that, it expects about $1-million to $2-million dollars of savings each year.

“What we’ve done here, is we make sure any projects we do don’t hit our general fund,” said Dixon. “So any project we provide doesn’t cost us any money, but rather serves as a symbol of our commitment to sustainability at Lucia Mar.”

The San Luis Coastal Unified School District has solar panels at some of its schools as well. Lucia Mar Unified contacted them, asked what they did right, and what they would’ve done differently, to get a better idea of how to implement the system.

Lucia Mar’s solar energy system will be completed before next school year at all the locations.