Fresno Bee Newsroom Blog

West-side school district goes solar, gets music program back

The Firebaugh-Las Deltas Unified School District has made a daring leap to solar power at three of its five school sites — a $5 million venture aimed at getting off the grid, saving money and helping the environment.

But there’s one more benefit: It made enough money available to bring back a music program that had died three years ago with the crashing economy. The district hired a music teacher and re-started its program this fall.

“Every student needs something to connect with in school,” said superintendent Russell Freitas. “This is a great opportunity to get students the chance to connect with music.”

This is quite a story about solar power being used in an impoverished, rural school district on the San Joaquin Valley’s west side. If it works, this might be the start of something big in the Valley.

How did Firebaugh-Las Deltas, a 2,300-student district, swing a deal like this?

The district got help from a consulting firm to figure out if its payments on the loan would be less than the cost of its utility bills.

The numbers reportedly show a $9 million savings over the next 25 years, said Freitas, who worked with SolarCity, a national company with a Fresno office. The system will be paid off in 15 years, he said.

During the first five years, the savings will be about $900,000, said Freitas.

The system has been installed at Firebaugh High School, Firebaugh Middle School and Hazel Bailey Elementary School. The schools are still connected to the electricity grid as backup, Freitas said.

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