Schools will consider installing solar panels

Newport-Mesa school officials this week voted to explore installing solar panels at school sites to save on their energy bill.

The district will pay an independent contractor up to $45,000 to evaluate whether the up-front investment could pay off in savings.

"The dilemma that we often run into on these energy-saving projects is the numbers are all run by the vendor, and that's a little bit of the fox in the hen house as far as I see it," Deputy Supt. Paul Reed told board members Tuesday.

Nearby school districts such as Irvine Unified have already invested in the technology. The Daily Pilot previously reported Irvine schools' claim to save $240,000 per year in energy costs.

Newport-Mesa's school officials remained cautious.

"I will tell you quite candidly that a number of school districts that have gone into this energy savings or environmental savings ... there's a big show at the press release at the front end of the project," Reed said. "And as it works out and you talk to the staff, it isn't quite what they thought it would be, and there's a little bit of buyer's remorse involved."

Board member David Brooks commended that caution, saying some districts were lured in by dreams of "free energy for everybody and 'maybe we'll make some money on this thing.'"

Reed said Newport-Mesa has been searching for a contractor to project long-term benefits of solar panels and has settled on consultant Clyde Murley, whom Reed said was recommended to him because of 25 years of public sector experience in energy.

After Brooks seconded the $45,000 contract, it was quickly, unanimously approved.

"I've been supportive of this type of process for quite a while, and it's nice that we're going to be advancing this so that if the grant opportunities do come, we're ready to go," board member Katrina Foley said.

Twitter: @jeremiahdobruck

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