Arizona Desert Elementary School

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Three more schools go on solar grid for San Luis

In a ribbon-cutting ceremony at Arizona Desert Elementary School, the school district and APS officials celebrated the completion of solar power panel installations at that school and Cesar Chavez and Desert View elementary schools..

Those panels, plus panels previously installed at Southwest Junior High School, will collectively generate nearly 1.8 megawatts of energy that the utility then distributes back to the Gadsden schools.

"This will mean savings for us," district Superintendent Raymond Aguilera said during the ribbon-cutting ceremony. "For the next 20 years, we won't see our electricity costs go as drastically as in homes."

The panel projects were completed in December, but district officials waited until this month to stage the ribbon-cutting ceremony that was attended by principals of the three schools, plus Gadsden school board members Luis Marquez, Rosa Varela and Tadeo de la Hoya; Phil Smithers, energy distribution manager for APS, and Andrea Bereznak, the utility's spokeswoman.

"This is energy that is sufficient for the schools and that serves the community," said Smithers. "These systems also have the educational benefit for students, since a kiosk will be left in place to teach them how the system works and how its operation is monitored."

Like other utilities, APS is under a mandate to generate at least 15 percent of its total electrical output from renewable sources, like solar, by 2025, said Bereznak.

One of the programs the utility has used to meet that goal has been through a partnership with Arizona schools, which the schools provide space on their campuses for APS to build, operate and maintain solar systems that, in turn, supply power for the schools at lower rates.

The Arizona Corporation Commission did not approve an extension of the program, Bereznak said, meaning schools that still want power now need to hire private third-party contractors to operate and build the on-campus solar systems.