Utilities’ differing power repurchase policies dictate school districts’ moves

By Patrick O’Grady

Phoenix Business Journal

As more school districts harness the power of the sun, some may find the cost savings they anticipated are not coming to light.

Rick Freeman of the Scottsdale Unified School District says Arcadia High School has a smaller solar system than the district’s other campuses because its electricity is provided by Salt River Project.

Differences in how the local utility companies handle their purchase of excess solar power have some school districts downsizing their systems, depending on which utility serves them.

In addition, a recent state auditor report found that some solar deals aren’t really saving school districts money and, in fact, could be costing them more than buying power from the utilities. That could mean challenges to district budgets on the utility front.

Despite these issues, school districts and those supplying the solar power say there’s no shortage of demand, and a majority of the systems are operating as expected and saving schools money.

“As these things come up and the incentives and financing come up, we’ll always be looking at it,” said Rick Freeman, director of facilities and operations for the Scottsdale Unified School District.

Scottsdale Unified is like many Valley districts that sought to use solar as an alternative energy source. But the size of each school’s power system has depended on the utility serving it: Those in Arizona Public Service Co.’s territory are much larger than those in Salt River Project’s coverage area. That’s because APS will buy power from systems up to 2 megawatts in size, while SRP will buy it back only from systems of up to 300,000 kilowatts.


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