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Celebration of first 40 structures

TUSD celebrates completion of first of 40 solar structures

Posted May 9, 2014

Tucson Unified School District will celebrate the completion of the first solar structure installation in its 40-school solar project on May 13 at Marshall Elementary School.

The ribbon-cutting ceremony will feature speakers Superintendent H.T. Sanchez, Tucson Mayor Jonathan Rothschild, Wendy Erika Werden, who is an outreach coordinator for U.S. Rep. Ron Barber, and Rob Dallal, director of Natural Power & Energy, the district's partner in the project.

The installation will be decorated with suns made by Marshall Elementary School first-graders, and the OMA Recorder band, made up of about 60 third-graders and their teachers, will perform a song called, "Let Me Be a Light."

Tina Cook, the TUSD's energy projects manager, said the benefits of the district's solar project, which is the largest of its kind locally, are wide-reaching.

"Solar energy has a reduced dependence on fossil fuel, a limited impact on environment, and reduces the demand on an electricity transmission grid," Cook said.

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.

The solar structures, which will be strategically placed to provide shade on playgrounds when possible, will also reduce the district's energy costs.

"Schools are large consumers of energy and, with TUSD's current electricity budget of $13 million, solar is not only a good long-term investment, it also frees up school resources to be spent in the classroom," Cook said.

In the first year after the panels are installed, TUSD expects to save about $170,000 in energy costs. Over the 20-year life of the project, the district expects to save $11 million.

In addition to environmental and financial benefits, the solar panels will generate learning opportunities. Students can experience the practical benefits of solar in action through project-based learning opportunities, Cook said.

At Marshall Elementary, engineers from Raytheon will be coming in to work with students, and the panels will be incorporated into classroom activities.

"Having the solar panels on our campus helps teachers expand lessons in science," said Christopher Loya, principal at Marshall.

The district competitively selected Natural Power and Energy, one of Arizona's leading solar companies, to oversee construction and financing based on the company's experience in working on large solar projects, and the project's ability to save the district money. TUSD had no up-front investment and will purchase energy from the solar systems at a fixed rate over 20 years.

The solar project has been implemented in phases. Site plans for each school are available online as they become available. See the Planned Sites page for the specific plans.

Phase one: Marshall, Erickson, Gale, Henry, Marshall, Soleng Tom and Wheeler elementary schools, as well as Secrist Middle School.

Phase two: Bonillas Basic Curriculum Magnet, Howell, Kellond, Lineweaver, Myers/Ganoung and Sewell elementary schools and Mary Meredith K-12.

Phase three: Drachman K-6 Montessori School, Carrillo K-5 Magnet, Cavett Elementary, Hollinger K-8, Lee Instructional Resource Center, Miles Exploratory Learning Center, Ochoa Community Magnet and Robison Magnet Elementary.

Phase four: Grijalva Elementary School, Maldonado Elementary School, Mary Belle McCorkle Academy of Excellence K-8, Miller Elementary School, Oyama Elementary School, Van Buskirk Elementary School, Warren Elementary School and White Elementary School.