Solar panels located on the grounds of Fletcher Walker Elementary are not operational. These panels and those located on the grounds of Westwood High School were damaged during the Feb. 26, 2019 snow storm. Estimated cost of repairs by the insurance adjuster is $118,437. Photo by Terry Johnson

Westwood district panels non-operational, repairs coming

The solar panels installed on the grounds of Fletcher Walker Elementary and Westwood High School have not generated power for almost a year. They were damaged in a snow storm Feb. 26, 2019 when heavy snow fell piling up on the panels. Solar panels are designed so that snow slides off, but the accumulation beneath the panel grew to a depth as high as the panels.

The panels are part of a project to make the district more energy efficient. When operating, they produce direct current, which is sold to Lassen Municipal Utility District for credit on the district’s electricity bill. The panels were operational in August 2017. Utility bills reflect the district saved $2,100 during the 2017-2018 school year and approximately $1,600 for the portion of the 2018-2019 school year in which the solar panels were operating.

The steps to make Westwood Unified School District more energy efficient were initiated in the fall of 2016 with the district contracting with ABM Building Solutions on projects totaling $1,068,840 to cut energy costs. The district obtained about $270,000 in grant funding that included Proposition 39—the California Clean Energy Jobs Act. The rest was covered by a loan.

The snow storm last February damaged 26 panels. It is estimated it will cost $118,437 in repairs to make the solar panels operational again. The estimate came from an adjuster for Swanson and Associates, the Westwood Unified School District’s insurance company. According to Krissy House, the chief financial official for the district, in July she verified the solar panels had been reported to the insurance company and were covered. An adjuster worked with ABM Building Solutions to determine the extent of the repairs. A report sent to the school district in October indicated the panels had to be removed from the existing rack and reinstalled with the damaged panels replaced.

With the unpredictability of winter weather and the solar company located in the Sacramento Valley, repairs will be made in early spring as the weather allows.

In addition to solar panels, other energy saving steps taken during the project were as follows:

  • Replacing controls on the air conditioning units to allow the system to keep a stable temperature in a room by idling at times rather than simply switching on and off.
  • Replacing light bulbs on the Westwood High campus and the operational parts of the Fletcher Walker Elementary campus (cafeteria/gym/offices) with LED (light emitting diodes) bulbs. Switching lights to LED saves 50-75 percent energy consumption.
  • Sealing the roof at the high school campus, which leaked, with insulated material that not only keeps water out but helps keep the building heated in the winter and cool in the summer.

Before the district contracted with ABM Building Solutions, the board of trustees listened to a presentation given by John Burdette, a certified energy manager for the company. Burdette presented at the May 2016 school board meeting.

At the September 2016 school board meeting a plan submitted by ABM Building Solutions was approved on the condition the district’s legal counsel found it satisfactory.

Burdette, who presented the final proposal, said the wish list for energy saving projects was long, and he cut it after determining which were the most beneficial and cost effective.

The resolution for the partnership was passed at the October 2016 meeting of the board of trustees for the Westwood Unified School District.