Neighbor has concerns about Muirlands’ new solar panels

By Ashley Mackin

280 new solar panels are being installed at Muirlands Middle School and will be operational by the end of this year. Main Street Power, based in Boulder, Colo., will pay for the installation and maintenance of the panels, and the San Diego Unified School District will pay for the power, per what is known as a Purchase Power Agreement.

“In addition to potential cost savings for utilities, SDUSD is utilizing the solar energy via Power Purchase Agreements to reduce its carbon emissions, increase use of renewable energy, educate staff and students to new sources of electricity, and create a more predictable, reliable and manageable energy budget,” said Drew Rowlands, executive director of the District’s Auxiliary Services.

Muirlands, located at 1056 Nautilus St., is the only school in La Jolla with this system, but is one of 36 sites district-wide. Muirlands was chosen because of how much direct sun it gets.

One school neighbor opposed to the project phoned the La Jolla Light to state her concerns. She said neighbors were not notified of the work, the new panels will block views, the roof may not be structurally strong enough to hold solar panels and the project may not be cost effective.

Tom Wright, the school district’s Manager of Safety, Training Personnel and Environmental Compliance for Auxiliary Services, addressed these concerns. Wright said the District did not see any impact to the neighbors because the project is contained entirely within the school.

On whether the panels will block views, Wright said the design of Muirlands Middle School would cover the panels. The roof has a profile that includes a slightly raised edge. The solar panels are close to the roof with very little angle, so they would not extend past its edge.

He added that neighbors whose property looks down at Muirlands Middle would see the panels, but there would not be any change in view beyond the school.

Additionally, Wright said the Department of State Architects (DSA), which ensures structural building codes are met and the structure is sound, approved the project. As to the financial concerns, Wright said not only will school save thousands of dollars over the next 20 years, but no money was spent to get the project going.

“The range of savings generated by the Muirlands solar panel system is estimated to be $160,000 to $480,000 for the life of the 20-year agreement. These estimates are based on historical rates and consumption.”

It’s projected that district-wide, the savings could be $2 million to $6 million over the next 20 years.

Prior to this project, San Diego Gas and Electric (SDG&E) provided the power to the school, and what would have gone to SDG&E will now go to pay for the solar power. “[Main Street Power] basically got our approval to put their equipment on our roofs and sell us the power and so all the money we’re going to expend on solar power would have been expended to SDG&E,” Wright said. Additionally, rates from the agreement will not change for entire contract of 20 years, so Muirlands knows how much it will pay and can budget accordingly.

“These rates won’t fluctuate as SDG&E rates would every three to five years,” Wright said. “We know what to budget [and] we’re going to save money and that’s why we’re signed up to do it.”