Newport Mesa Unified School District (USD) chose Borrego Solar to build 32 systems across its district ―among the most systems for any district in the country.
The Southern California school district went solar to reduce energy costs and mitigate the risk of volatile utility rates over the next few decades. Borrego Solar designed a portfolio of solar projects comprised of elevated shade structures that maximize the unused space within the District. Each school uses the majority, if not all, of the solar energy generated by their respective systems. The sites are net-metered, meaning any solar energy not used by the district is fed into the local electricity grid for use by neighboring facilities and the district receives credit from the utility to apply to future energy bills.
This District used state incentives and loans to go solar with little capital expenditure upfront.
Newport Mesa USD paid for the $13 million system with a $3 million 0% interest loan from the California Energy Commission, $5 million in funds from the Special Reserve Funds for Capital Outlay Project Fund and $5 million from Prop 39. In addition, the District will receive a performance based incentive from the California Solar Initiative program for the first five years the installations are in operation. The savings from the installations will provide an income stream over the life of the system. No general fund capital was used on this project, leaving financial resources for classroom expenses available.
A tight schedule and multitude of sites presented many challenges, because the margin for error was so slim. Every step needed to be seamless, from meeting SCE’s interconnection standards and design approvals to permit applications and coordination with the DSA. What’s more, this project had multiple parties that needed to stay updated and involved along the entire process: an Inspector of Record, the DSA, construction management firms, subcontractors, the District and SCE.
Borrego Solar built the majority of the arrays during one summer break.
There was no room for error or delay given the tight timeline and large number of sites. Initially the District proposed splitting the installations between two summer breaks, but Borrego Solar laid out a timeline in which it would complete all installations in one year during available periods of limited use by students and faculty. While this was the largest number of sites we have completed consecutively for one District, Borrego Solar has extensive experience working with the Division of State Architects (DSA) and Southern California Edison (SCE), which proved essential in completing the construction of the carports on time.
At the core of Borrego Solar’s successful completion of the project was keeping things moving forward and on schedule. The team was diligent about staying up to date with any changes SCE made to interconnection requirements. An engineer was brought onto the team to focus on working with the DSA and navigating the process to avoid any snags. The Borrego Solar project manager’s priority was communicating necessary information to the District and the District’s hired construction management firm, which minimized surprise issues popping up that can typically stall progress.
Borrego Solar completed the construction of all 32 individual systems on time, exceeding the initial expectation that this many projects couldn’t be completed in a single Summer. Our experience working with SCE on net-energy-metered projects enabled the team to anticipate elements of the design that utilities occasionally push back on. Crews were able to proactively address some of these issues in bulk, which was essential in efficiently managing all of the sites. Because of Borrego Solar’s tight teamwork and experience, the team was able to complete many tasks across systems at once such as shutting off power and interconnecting 24 systems in one day. Borrego Solar will also be providing Operations & Maintenance services for all 32 sites.