Santa Barbara School Board Approves Solar Microgrids

Source: Clean Coalition

In a big win for clean local energy and resilience in the Santa Barbara region, the Santa Barbara Unified School District (SBUSD) Board unanimously voted last week to proceed with Solar Microgrid projects throughout the District, along with additional standalone solar projects.

For the Santa Barbara Unified Solar Plus Energy Resiliency Project, the Clean Coalition, a nonprofit organization, and Sage Energy Consulting completed feasibility studies for Solar Microgrid and standalone solar installations at 18 SBUSD sites. This was followed by designing and executing a state-of-the-art request for proposals (RFP) process for a 28-year fixed-rate power purchase agreement (PPA) for solar at 14 sites, with full Solar Microgrids at 6 of those sites.

As the best value from numerous excellent proposals submitted, Engie Services U.S. provided the winning bid to design, build, own, and operate all the projects. The Solar Microgrids will feature solar and energy storage that can provide indefinite resilience to the most critical electric loads, which include refrigeration, communications, and emergency staging. The rest of the loads will be maintained for a significant percentage of the time as well. The solar will be deployed in the form of solar parking canopies, and the benefiting parking lots will be staged for future deployments of electric vehicle charging infrastructure (EVCI).

In addition to millions of dollars in guaranteed bill savings through the fixed-rate PPA, and additional market opportunities that might arise from dispatchable solar energy, the SBUSD will enjoy millions of dollars in value from resilience benefits, for free:

Lifetime (28-year) bill savings and added value-of-resilience.

“The SBUSD has shown impressive leadership in unanimously voting to move forward with this groundbreaking initiative,” said Craig Lewis, Executive Director of the Clean Coalition. “The associated Solar Microgrid specifications introduced significant innovations that guarantee resilience benefits to the District and are game-changing for the industry. Sage has been a tremendous partner in facilitating analytical, RFP, and contracting innovations. The SBUSD Solar Microgrids serve as a model that can easily be followed by school districts and other entities throughout the country, and well beyond.”

The value-of-resilience for the Solar Microgrids was secured via a highly innovative specification in the RFP, based on the Clean Coalition’s value-of-resilience (VOR123) methodology. The methodology is based on tiering electric loads into three tiers, which will be managed via automated functionality built into the Solar Microgrids:

  • Tier 1: Mission-critical, life-sustaining loads that warrant 100% resilience — usually about 10% of a facility’s total load. At the SBUSD, Tier 1 loads are freezers and refrigerators. The RFP specifies that during an outage, these loads must be kept operational 100% of the time.
  • Tier 2: Priority loads that should be maintained as long as doing so does not threaten the ability to maintain Tier 1 loads — usually about 15% of the total load. At the SBUSD, these are Main Distribution Frame facilities for communications services and primary Multi-Purpose Room type facilities for emergency response. The RFP specifies that these loads must be kept online approximately 80% of the time during outages.
  • Tier 3: Discretionary loads that should be maintained only when doing so does not threaten Tier 1 and Tier 2 resilience — usually about 75% of the total load. At the SBUSD, these loads are anticipated to be kept online approximately 25% of the time during outages.

“This visionary initiative will result in a trifecta of economic, environmental, and resilience benefits to the District,” said SBUSD board president Laura Capps. “In addition, our schools with Solar Microgrids will have the ability to serve as places of refuge to the broader community, during grid outages of any duration. I am proud of the unanimous support that has been given to this effort across the District’s board, facilities staff, and former and current superintendents, as well as the support we’ve received from the community at large.”

The SBUSD is located in one of the most grid-vulnerable regions in California, the Goleta Load Pocket (GLP) — a 70-mile stretch of Southern California coastline from Point Conception to Lake Casitas, encompassing the cities of Goleta, Santa Barbara (including Montecito), and Carpinteria.

A map of the GLP, showing the single transmission path in purple.

The area gets most of its power from just one set of transmission lines hung on the same transmission towers and routed through 40 miles of mountainous terrain that is highly prone to wildfires, mudslides, and earthquakes — making the GLP highly transmission-vulnerable.

“The District’s Solar Microgrids have been strategically spread throughout the Goleta Load Pocket to best serve the entire community during grid outages, including those resulting from high-impact disasters,” said Steve Vizzolini, SBUSD Director of Facilities & Modernization. “We will be positioned to support everything from emergency sheltering with food service to internet access and electronics charging stations.”

Six SBUSD Solar Microgrid sites are spread throughout the GLP.

The District will now enter into contract negotiations with Engie, with contract approval expected in November and construction targeted for next summer.

About the Clean Coalition

The Clean Coalition is a nonprofit organization whose mission is to accelerate the transition to renewable energy and a modern grid through technical, policy, and project development expertise. The Clean Coalition drives policy innovation to remove barriers to procurement and interconnection of distributed energy resources (DER) — such as local renewables, energy storage, advanced inverters, and demand response — and we establish market mechanisms that realize the full potential of integrating these solutions. In addition to being active in numerous proceedings before state and federal agencies throughout the United States, the Clean Coalition collaborates with utilities, community choice aggregation agencies, municipalities, and other entities to create near-term deployment opportunities that prove the technical, economic, and resilience viability of local renewables and other DER.


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  1. Bravo, lets do it! Stop being scared of solar, stop reading into the lies and the distractions people use to turn people off on solar. our sun has been around longer than us, and has created energy long before we needed it. it will continue to create energy long after we have destroyed this planet.

  2. Smaller class sizes: Nope.
    Better programs for English Learners: Nope.
    Air conditioning: Nope.
    Remodel crumbling science labs: Nope.
    Long-deferred maintenance on existing buildings: Nope.
    Score political points: Yep.
    Any benefit at all to educating our kids: TBD.

  3. Seems like a good project, but it also seems like the root cause is the reliance on a single set of SCE transmission lines. Seems like SCE should have been required to fix that or provide significant money for this project as a mitigation.

  4. Off track board members, way off track. Educating kids is your first, second, and third priority. You’re a “SCHOOL BOARD” after all. And you’re failing fast. Get your act together. Start from the ground up. Nothing wrong with solar, great idea if we were in a completely different situation scholastically. There are so many things that should take precedence over this kind of project. Wow.

  5. Education industry contractors typically fund school bond campaigns; not necessarily individual school board candidates – which would produce more attenuated benefits. But bond campaign donations can produce the big construction bucks they are really after, along with bond campaign donations from the lawyers and bonding companies. Yes, follow the money because education is big, big money. With virtually no over sight or accountability.

  6. Who read this and said, “oh I get it, totally makes sense”. Or wondered why a company would build “for free” a solar grid system and expect nothing in return. And why is the Goleta Union School District, which operates at a deficit, doing something similar but they want to issue bonds and have homeowners pay for it? And why haven’t any legal eagles ever challenged the voting process where everyone is allowed to vote for mandating that home owners will be forced to pay for something? 62% of every property bill is for some school obligation, yet there are no cutbacks or executions of better management practices. Just always going to the cookie jar. To pay pensions. And make more. Enough already. (NO on measure M)

  7. It was discussed at length over the past 2 years. the costs were shown, and other options were investigated. do some digging and you will find all the info you are asking for. As for ConservativeSB, what spending money on renewable energy goals is not wise? with whats going on in the world, that statement is a bit old and dried up…. pun intended.

  8. like the fact that the world is slowly overheating because of our dependance on fossil fuels? no lets ignore that for more years to come and act like we have a “back up” planet we can use when we decide to actual change. AGAIN this was discussed and planned roughly 2 years ago. before this pandemic. so like everyone and everything else in our world, they are “multitasking” and things are finally coming to approval stages.

  9. I know exactly why they can build it for “free”, especially if they do it within this year. they get tax rebates on ALL electrical work needed, or infrastructure needed to achieve this. thats at the federal level. state rebates are also in effect. Thats a “better” use of money ( I.e. Tax saving up to 26% on a project ). Especially a project we need to do for our future sustainability. there are alot of other variables that cannot be listed on EDhat, but id be happy to explain it all to anyone interested. Solar is not a shame, or scam. It is a good idea and can be done right. ( I used to install solar commercially and residentially, and built solar power system for Glamping trailers. )

  10. Solar today is a scam because it is over-produced and under-utilized during its peak production hours. Solar installation + very expensive storage is the only way for solar to make practical sense. School solar even more of a ruse since peak summer solar production hours are when schools are not in session anyway. Plug into your roof top solar during a brown out and you can barely charge your cell phone. When it makes sense only with tax breaks and subsidies, all the public greenwashing in the world cannot justify spending tax dollars for PR messages. Particularly when the schools keep turing our illiterate students who won’t know how to read solar contracts, the instruction manuals or fix it when it breaks down, shuts off, and needs routine maintenance.

  11. This is fake news:”Plug into your roof top solar during a brown out and you can barely charge your cell phone.” If I can reduce my electric bill to 0 with solar panels, that means it produces enough electricity to run my appliances when the sun is out. No way SCE is counting my electrons that can barely charge my cell phone the same as the electrons they provide unless both electrons are the same. So is the rest of your argument valid? Probably not.

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