Trustee questions use of ground-mount solar panels at Golden Hills Elementary | News
Trustee Tyler Napier believes that the Tehachapi Unified School District should be a good neighbor. And although he doesn’t live near Golden Hills Elementary School, he said at a meeting of the school board on Jan. 10 that he thinks covering an area of the school grounds along Madre Street with solar panels is not good for the school or the neighborhood.
“If I was a community member there, I’d be livid,” Napier said about the plan.
His expressed concerns seem to have triggered a plan for the district to do some outreach and allow neighbors to share their thoughts before the board again considers the item at its Feb. 14 board meeting.
Last November the school board approved a revised power purchase rate agreement with ForeFront Power, LLC. The agreement was first approved in December 2020. It called for installation of solar panels at five district schools — Tehachapi High School, Jacobsen Middle School and the district’s three elementary schools.
Hojat Entezari, chief administrator, business services, told trustees at the time that the district could save about $8 million over 20 years with the planned installation by using ground-mounted panels at Golden Hills but the savings would be about $350,000 less if a canopy- mount is required at the school. All of the other schools would have canopy-mount solar panels.
The proposed canopy design at Golden Hills that Entezari presented last November would require significant upgrades to the parking lot and path of travel to the school entrance to meet requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act, he said. The additional cost would reduce the solar savings over 20 years because the installation expense would be handled by the contractor.
In November, the board voted 5-2 to approve the amendment to the power purchase agreement with trustees Napier and Joe Wallek, who is no longer on the board, voted against the proposal. Only Napier, Tracy Kelly and Jackie Wood were on the board in November. Four other members—President Paul Kaminski, Wayne Cooper, Deborah Du-Sorenson and Cassandra Sweeney—joined the board in late December following their election in November.
Entezari was before the board Jan. 10 with a plot plan showing how the solar panels will be installed on the ground at the Golden Hills campus. The plan requires the removal or relocation of about 30 trees on the western side of the campus — but would still cost less than the canopy-mount plan, he said.
The item wasn’t on the agenda for action but just as information for the board and to solicit feedback, he said.
Kelly said he was still in favor of the project but said he did have a concern about ADA compliance. Du-Sorenson asked how much it would cost to use the canopy-mount and Sweeney also asked about ADA compliance.
ADA standards have changed over time, Entezari said, noting that at the time the school was built it was compliant. But a project such as a canopy solar installation would require upgrades to meet current ADA standards.
Additionally, he said, the ground-mount is something that he believes could be accomplished next summer while the canopy-mount could take longer.
Napier asked if the administration had done any outreach to ask what neighbors of the school thought about the plan. He was also critical of the district using limited land for the project instead of mounting the panels in another area of the campus and questioned the small amount of savings compared to what he believes will be an unattractive installation.
Kaminski suggested that the school principal meet with neighbors and said that he would be willing to do that also. And Superintendent Stacey Larson-Everson said the administration will bring the project back to the board at its next regular meeting in February, which will allow time for outreach to neighbors.
Claudia Elliott is a freelance journalist and former editor of the Tehachapi News. She lives in Tehachapi and can be reached by email: [email protected]