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San Diego schools to be over 10 percent solar

Amsolar will build and operate 23,000 solar panels on San Diego Unified School District properties and use a "space for electricity" financing model.

The old 'pool on the roof' prank will become obsolete in San Diego once this artist's rendering of solar panels on a school building becomes a reality. Amsolar

The standby "pool on the roof" prank so often played on gullible incoming students will no longer be possible at schools in San Diego.

The San Diego Unified School District Board of Education has approved a contract with Amsolar to build and operate 5.2 megawatts worth of solar panels on its properties.

Amsolar specializes in building solar projects in conjunction with schools specifically, and offers an unusual space-for-electricity financing model.

Essentially it works like this. Schools provide their rooftops for use by Amsolar to build and operate solar projects. Amsolar owns, operates, and maintains the solar panel systems, and in exchange for the use of their space the school can buy the electricity generated from solar at a significantly discounted rate.

In this particular case, the San Diego Unified School District signed a 22-year power purchase agreement last week with Amsolar in which all of the electricity generated by the solar panels will be sold directly to the school district. The contract is for 23,000 solar panels to be placed throughout 80 rooftops, and 1,500 solar carports that will provide power to roughly 20 school sites. The 20 sites will each be able to run on 64 percent solar energy.

Amsolar estimates its solar panels can supply 11 percent of the district's total energy needs. It's also estimated the change to solar-generated electricity will save the district between $13 million and $20 million in utility costs. Installation is slated to begin in the fall.

In addition to the Amsolar project, the San Diego school district also has an additional 4.17 megawatts of solar panels that will make its total energy consumption from solar even higher.

The financing model could be ideal for school districts. Many are cash-strapped because of cuts in state budgets across the U.S. and don't have the upfront money needed to buy and install solar panels despite the possible long-term savings in energy bills.

But the model is not exclusive to Amsolar or even schools.

A county in New Jersey has leveraged the space-for-electricity model. Tioga Energy signed a 15-year power of purchase agreement with Morris County, N.J. that includes the installation of 3.2 megawatts of solar panels on county property roofs. Some of the installation will be paid for with county-guaranteed bonds, but Tioga has also agreed to pass on the savings it gets through federal solar-tax incentives by offering the county electricity generated from the solar panels at a 35 percent reduced rate.