AHWAHNEE — Bass Lake Joint Union Elementary School District (BLUSD) hosted a “Plug into the Sun” celebration Thursday at Wasuma Elementary School. The event was held to unveil a new solar photovoltaic (PV) system that will provide 75 percent of the school district’s overall electricity needs.
The PV system will reduce the district’s carbon footprint and save a significant amount of money on its power bill.
“And we didn’t have to spend a penny for it,” Superintendent Randy Seals says. “Now, instead of paying more for power, we can provide more direct services to our students.”
Thursday afternoon’s ceremony, held in front of the Wasuma gym, included “flipping on” a symbolic switch to start the generation of renewable solar power created by a field of 752 solar panels located just east of the school.
Actually, Seals says, the new PV system “is already pulling in juice” and has been up and running for more than a week.
The district’s solar project almost didn’t happen. A plan finalized in 2017 fell through after President Trump signed into law a new tax bill eliminating all federal subsidies and zero-interest financing plans associated with renewable energy projects.
“That threw us not quite back to square one, but close,” says Seals.
So they explored “alternative options” and eventually hammered out a power purchase agreement with Arizona-based Climatec Energy Services that will allow the district to buy the majority of its electric power from Climatec “at rates considerably lower than what PG&E has long charged us,” according to Seals.
“It’s been a long road but this is such an awesome moment,” notes BLJUESD Board President Stella Pizelo, who together with other board members, helped Seals “flip” the switch.
Climatec’s installation of the project began last summer and took nearly a year to complete.
“Climatec has been a great partner during the planning and construction phases of the project and their dedication to us as a client has been outstanding,” Seals says.
The new system features solar panels manufactured by SunPower and seven AC/DC inverters.
Tyler Girtman of Climatec says the system is expected to produce approximately 600,000 kWh per year and close to 14,250,000 kWh over its 25-year lifespan.
The project, which was finished on May 16, entailed over 1,000 feet of underground directional boring from the school’s soccer field and parking lot to a point of interconnection on campus so as not to disrupt school programming throughout the construction period.
The result is approximately 1 mile of underground high voltage wiring running between the Wasuma campus and Ahwahnee Hills Regional Park to a set of main electrical panels located in the far corner of the school’s parking lot near the cafeteria.
Girtman says the project will result in environmental-related savings equivalent to “26 less cars on the road, 14,121 gallons of gasoline saved, 3,703 trees preserved from deforestation and 19 homes powered.”
“We are thrilled to possess this resource,” says Pizelo. “The PV system is just one feat toward powering our district and reinvigorating the area. Our goal is to continue educating ourselves, our students and our community about the benefits and means of clean energy.”
Seals says BLUSD and Climatec will continue their partnership in an additional collaboration with the SunPower Horizons Program to educate district leadership on solar PV. The education series will include lessons in solar science and energy efficiency, guest lecturers, mentors, webinars, advisers for solar curriculum and project and office tours.
Founded in 1975 and headquartered in Phoenix, Climatec provides “advanced building technologies and energy efficiency solutions” and serves nearly all market segments including education, health care, office, hospitality, industrial and government.
“As leaders in energy efficiency, Climatec finds it important to connect with local leaders on opportunities for enhancing their communities,” says Girtman. “We are inspired by Bass Lake School District to take on shifts in, not only infrastructure, but education.”
The Bass Lake district currently serves about 900 students. The new PV solar system dovetails “really nicely” with the solar suitcase project undertaken by 8th graders at Wasuma and recently funded in part by Yosemite High senior — and former Wasuma student — Ryan O’Meara, says Wasuma Principal Heather Archer.
“Our students are really getting a terrific, first-hand lesson in how solar power works,” Archer says.