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With state law makers planning more school budget cuts, Sedona-Oak Creek School District Governing Board Member John Wesnitzer says it’s time to get creative.

By Mike Cosentino
Larson Newspapers

With state law makers planning more school budget cuts, Sedona-Oak Creek School District Governing Board Member John Wesnitzer says it’s time to get creative.

Wesnitzer wants to use bond money to provide the needed solar energy infrastructure to eliminate the district’s electric bills.

The board will decide whether to seek a $73.4 million bond at its Thursday, June 28, meeting.

If the board decides to go ahead and the voters approve the bond in November, Wesnitzer wants to use $13 million of it to invest in photovoltaic arrays that convert sunlight into electricity.

SOCSD Superintendent Kim Randall has informed the board that the state intends to phase out the budget provision known as excess utilities.

“The excess utilities line item will disappear in a couple of years,” Wesnitzer said.

“That funding will have to come out of other parts of the maintenance and operations budget. That part of the budget includes teachers’ salaries,” he said.

“My thought was to see if we could figure out a way to build into this bond issue a way to get out from under some of those [utility] costs,” Wesnitzer said. “The photovoltaic system came to mind. I have been kind of a student of that for 30 years, and it’s almost affordable now.”

Wesnitzer has calculated the district’s annual electricity use and its cost.

The district uses about 3.47 million kilowatt hours at a cost of $349,000, he said.

“In order to get rid of the cost, about $13 million worth of photovoltaics could be installed,” Wesnitzer said.

Wesnitzer, an engineer and partner in Shephard-Wesnitzer, an engineering consulting and surveying firm, said he knows that Arizona Public Service will rebate $500,000 a year to the district if it installs a 200 kW solar energy unit.

The district will install one 200 kW photovoltaic array unit per year and get that rebate each year since there is no limit how often an entity can receive it.

And there is a federal program that could also provide $500,000 a year, Wesnitzer said.

“We could spend $1.3 million a year to add 200 kW photovoltaic units and get back $1 million, barring any changes in the rebate and grant programs,” Wesnitzer said.

He said the schools need 10 of those 200 kW arrays.

“By the end of that 10 years, we could be generating $350,000 worth of power each year. We should get our $3 million investment back in 8.5 years,” he said.

Wesnitzer sees solar power as a way to “produce enough power to get away from the power bills.”

One issue is what can the district do with money saved.

“We will have to ask the state auditor,” he said.

Investing $13 million over the course of 10 years will make the district energy self-sufficient, Wesnitzer pointed out.

The system has a useful life of 25 years.

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