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TUSD to save money, protect the planet in groundbreaking solar project

In one of the largest project of its kind locally, Tucson Unified School District is harnessing the power of the sun and bringing solar energy to more than 40 of our schools, providing significant cost savings to taxpayers.

The project represents our commitment to using renewable energy and reducing our carbon footprint while saving money. The district will serve as a model of good stewardship to other districts and our students.

The 18-month project is expected to save TUSD approximately $170,000 in the first year and more than $11 million in energy costs over the 20-year life of the 11-megawatt project.

Over 19,000 tons of carbon dioxide emissions will be averted from local power plants in the project's first full year of operation, along with 23.5 tons of nitrous oxides.

Phased construction began with the first group of schools in the first quarter of 2014. See the news story, "Ground broken on first solar-power installation," for information about the start of construction and "TUSD celebrates completion of solar structure installation at ribbon-cutting" for information about the first solar structure installation, at Marshall Elementary.

As an added benefit, the majority of the 38,000 solar panels will be placed over playgrounds to provide shading.

Bringing solar to schools provides students with an up-close view of alternative energy at work. TUSD expects to incorporate an educational component, with the goal of encouraging students to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering and math – or STEM. Students can calculate how many trees are being saved with the use of solar energy in their school, among other lessons.

TUSD plans to enter into a Solar Services Agreement (SSA) that provides for the construction and operation of the solar power systems. About 80 percent of electricity required at each site is expected to be produced by the systems.

The district competitively selected Natural Power and Energy, one of Arizona's leading solar companies, to oversee construction and financing of the SSA, under which TUSD will purchase energy from the solar systems at a fixed rate over 20 years.

Natural Power and Energy was selected based on the company's experience in working on large solar projects, and the project's ability to save the district money.