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Santa Maria Sun / News

The following article was posted on October 23rd, 2013, in the Santa Maria Sun - Volume 14, Issue 33 [ Submit a Story ]
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [] - Volume 14, Issue 33

Lucia Mar gets serious about energy savings with a solar program


A rendering of solar panels planned for Arroyo Grande High School.

On Oct. 15, the Lucia Mar Unified School District Board of Trustees made a move that will shoot the district into the world of green energy.

Trustees voted to fund a $14 million energy savings project that will lead to the installation of solar panel arrays at six of the district’s 19 schools and the district office. The project also includes plans to update mechanical systems at the three high schools, reconfigure the irrigation systems at five elementary schools, and install LED lighting in every district-owned building. Work is expected to begin this spring and continue into the 2014-2015 school year.

“Every single site is getting an improvement,” said Jeff Dixon, director of facilities and maintenance for Lucia Mar.

Dixon said replacing the district’s currently used lights with LEDs will save the district $31,000 per year in maintenance costs alone. LED lights have an expected lifetime of 30 years, while the district’s current lights need to be replaced more often. The light exchange would be the first energy-use transformation, while design plans for the remaining changes are still being finalized.

Embarking on this green energy journey is the district’s way of being “good stewards of the environment and good stewards of the general fund,” Dixon said.

Raynee Daley, the district’s assistant superintendent of business, said the project would pay for itself and then some over the next 25 years. Energy savings are projected to be an additional $11 million over the cost of the project, which comes to a total savings of approximately 80 percent of Lucia Mar’s projected energy usage without the project.

The project will have a “dramatic impact on use of energy,” Daley said. “It’s always about trying to stretch the dollar and spending it as close to the classroom as possible.”

Lucia Mar officials started looking at ways to save energy dollars four years ago. The district began with the “low-hanging fruit,” Daley said.

The oranges and apples easiest to pick were things such as making sure the lights were off when no one was around, keeping the computers off, and using heating and cooling systems more efficiently. Once faculty and staff got that squared away, the district moved up the ladder toward a bigger picture.

Two years ago, energy companies started doing walkthroughs of the district’s buildings and pitching ideas of how project costs, improvements, and energy savings would come together financially.

“The only way we could actually pay for this [was] to pay directly out of the savings we would generate,” Daley said.

Chevron Energy Solutions came out on top.

In 2000, Chevron Energy Solutions became a branch of the Chevron Corporation the public associates with oil, and since then has developed hundreds of sustainable energy projects across the country. Daley said one of the really great things about working with Chevron is that the estimated cost savings are guaranteed. If the district doesn’t save the energy dollars that Chevron projected, the company will cut Lucia Mar a check for the difference.

Daley said the company did an energy audit to figure out which buildings would work best for solar—had the space, the correct electrical tie-ins, and best access to sunlight—where the district could save in water costs, and which air systems needed upgrades.

Arroyo Grande and Nipomo high schools, Judkins and Paulding middle schools, and Dana and Dorothea Lange elementary schools won out for solar arrays. Fairgrove, Grover Beach, Grover Heights, Nipomo, and Ocean View elementary schools will be getting new, more efficient outside irrigation systems that can be electronically controlled from anywhere with Internet access.

District officials are anticipating the ability to embark on even more green energy projects through Proposition 39, which is meant to bring more sustainable energy and green jobs to California. The California Department of Education is expected to begin doling out money to districts sometime in the near future.

Director of facilities and maintenance Dixon said funding through Proposition 39 is expected to be around $480,000 a year over a five-year period. Although those projects haven’t been lined out yet, Dixon said ideas such as solar heaters for the swimming pools have been tossed around.

For now, though, the district is focused on the project at hand, which will make the district more efficient using electricity, water, and natural gas. But it’s not just about savings on the meter and being green. For Dixon, the nice thing about working with Chevron Energy Solutions is developing green energy educational opportunities for students and the community.

He said the solar arrays going up at the schools will have visible meters and educational displays.

“At all the sites getting solar, there will be a real-time display of energy use versus energy produced,” Dixon said. “It will offer our teachers an opportunity to incorporate some of these projects into the classroom.”


Contact Staff Writer Camillia Lanham at

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