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Newhall School District moves forward with solar plan

Posted: September 5, 2012 2:00 a.m.
Updated: September 5, 2012 2:00 a.m.

Looking to brighten campuses with solar energy, Newhall School District officials are moving forward with an alternative-energy plan, officials said Tuesday.

The move followed about an hour of discussion, including a presentation by Psomas FMG, after two board members expressed concern that the plan hadn’t been competitively vetted.

“It’s not just about the ascetic looks (of solar panels), there’s a fiduciary responsibility to the district,” said Sue Solomon, Newhall School District board member. “And this is a new subject matter to me,” the 13-year member said.

A decision was made to go with Psomas FMG early on for several reasons, such as the company’s presence in the area and experience with similar projects, said Newhall district Superintendent Marc Winger. Psomas has installed most of its 52 installations on school sites, including throughout sites in the Hart district.

Solomon also noted that because solar energy is a fairly nascent industry, it would benefit the district to explore options beside Psomas FMG. Psomas FMG hasn’t been in business as long as the 20-year contract it’s asking district officials to sign for the lease of its energy, she said.

Psomas FMG is backed by significant resources, according to Al Nagy, chief operating officer for the company.

“We are partnered with NRG, which is the largest independent producer of solar energy in the United States,” said Nagy, who was at the presentation. In addition, Psomas has been around for more than 60 years.

The issue for Solomon wasn’t anything regarding what Psomas had done — she appreciated their diligence and professionalism, she said. But the question for her was, how can the district be sure it’s getting the best deal unless it knows what else is out there.

The board has been investigating solar-panel installation for the 10 elementary schools in the 5,000-student district for months, according to board President Christy Smith.

Two committees formed by district officials have been looking into the design, contract and site details.

The fact that there was no RFP, or request for proposal, was mentioned, even though the project didn't require one. A request for proposal is a process set by state law that dictates how a public entity must solicit competitive bids for taxpayer-funded projects.

“We didn’t do a (request for proposals) because we didn’t have to,” said Winger, explaining that wasn’t mandated for this project because there is no cost associated with the solar-panel installation.

Psomas FMG assumes the cost of installation for the solar panels under the proposal the board is considering.

Board member Brian Walters, a lawyer working with the district’s counsel on contractual issues, said it’s in the board’s best interest to move forward.

“In terms of our discussion and talks, I think they’ve gone very well,” Walters said. “It’s just making sure the languages of the contract is matching up with their intention.”

About 30 items of concern were brought up throughout the ongoing negotiations, such as rates and site selection for the panels. Most of the issues have been addressed, the last few are still being negotiated and the company has been very amenable, he said.

The advantages and savings under negotiation in the deal, as well as incentives associated with other districts going solar, likely woud be lost if board members decided to set a bidding process and start from scratch, he said.

“I need to look at a scope of years, in the scope of a 20-year investment, and what it’s going to get in those 20 years,” Solomon said. “I’m not certain, because I have no other information, that this is the best deal for the district.”


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