What: La Paloma Academy and Stelcor Energy solar project groundbreaking ceremony

Who: La Paloma students, staff and charter holder Raena Janes, and Stelcor Energy Director of Commercial Projects Robert Neifert

When: 9:30 a.m., Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Where: La Paloma Academy Central Campus, 2050 N. Wilmot Road

Why: Launch of installation of solar panels at the Central and Lakeside campuses. The addition of solar power this summer will potentially save the charter school more than $1 million over the next 20 years. La Paloma students will use a golden shovel to dig the first hole for the installation, which will ultimately free resources that will benefit their academic environment.

Stelcor Energy will install a 577,920 kilowatt-hour system at La Paloma’s Central Campus, 2050 N. Wilmot Road, and a 665,280 kwh system at Lakeside Campus, 8140 E. Golf Links Road. Each system will have more than 1,100 solar panels installed on the roofs of the campus buildings and as parking lot and playground shade structures.

The systems will provide about 97 percent of each school’s power needs based on how much each school used last year, though that could exceed 100 percent because Stelcor will convert the schools’ lighting systems to LED, which uses far less power than other lighting systems, and the schools have improved their heating and cooling systems.

La Paloma is not responsible for the $1.7 million cost of the project; instead, the school entered into a power-purchase agreement in which the school pays for the solar power generated at lower rates than when purchasing power off the grid. Over the 20 years of the agreement, La Paloma could realize as much as $1 million in energy savings.

The solar power systems will be integrated into the schools’ curricula and features a weather station that teachers will be able to access from their classrooms. The weather station helps the monitoring system accurately analyze and predict the electricity output. Teachers also will be able to access the power monitoring system to see how much power is being generated each day and how the weather is affecting it.

Excess power created during the day will be fed into the Tucson Electric Power grid through TEP’s net metering program, and then the excess will be used as a credit against any power used by the schools after the sun goes down.

Construction will begin in earnest May 22 after the school year ends and is scheduled to be completed Aug. 15, the weekend before the next school year starts. However, the switch won’t be flipped on power generation until October because of finishing touches and certifications.