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School District Soaks Up Cost-Cutting Solar Energy
Solar 1
Preparations are being made on the El Portal Middle School campus for installation of a solar panel/shade structure that will cover a portion of the parking lot at the campus on First Street. All Escalon Unified School District campuses are having solar arrays put in. - photo by Marg Jackson/The Times

Crews have been busy and unusual looking structures have been going up on campuses throughout the Escalon Unified School District over the past several weeks.

In some instances, the structures are showing up in parking lots, in other cases, in corners of land previously used as playing fields.

But the structures, though difficult to discern in the earliest stages, will bring in plenty of savings to the school district through the use of solar energy.

The solar arrays are in various stages of completion all around the district, and school officials said the work is going well.

“OpTerra is the contractor and the work is continuing with an anticipated solar completion by December 31,” explained Escalon Unified School District Superintendent Ron Costa. “Escalon High School, El Portal (Middle School) and Van Allen (Elementary) will have shade structures with solar panels on top and Dent, Collegeville and Farmington (elementary schools) will have ground mounted solar arrays.”

This past week the groundwork was being laid for the shade structure to cover a portion of the parking lot at El Portal Middle School, while crews were also working on solar arrays in a field behind Dent and nearing completion of the project at Van Allen Elementary along Highway 120.

“We are anticipating an annual electricity savings of close to $500,000 which is between 80 and 90 percent of our current electricity costs,” Costa pointed out.

Not only that, the solar arrays will help the school cut down on energy consumption, reducing its environmental footprint and helping it to serve as a good steward of natural resources.

“When the solar is complete we will be replacing some old HVACs (Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning) with modern energy efficiency units and update our exterior lights with LED lights,” Costa added. “Both of these changes will also reduce electricity usage.”

Funding for the solar project also seems to be a win-win for the district and the lender. The district got a QZAB, Qualified Zone Academy Bond, said Costa, which is a loan in which the lender gets a tax break for lending the money to a school district.

For Escalon Unified, the district received a $7 million, zero percent, no interest 20-year loan.

“The annual payment is $350,000 and we are saving $500,000 in electricity so for the first year we will be saving approximately $150,000,” noted Costa. “And each year that the cost of electricity goes up, we will be saving more since our payment is fixed at $350,000.”

Construction will continue for the next few months before all systems are in operation. The wait and inconvenience of work being done during the school day, Costa said, will be worth it.


“By adding solar and reducing energy use, we will be able to use the savings to benefit student programs for years to come,” he said.