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San Ramon Valley Unified School District installs 10k photovoltaic panels at five schools

In a move that is proving to be controversial with some, some California school districts are looking to a high-tech way to save money, even if the payback won't be achieved until well over a decade later. CNN is reporting that some California school districts are looking to low-interest federal loans to install solar panels on schools.

CNN singled out the San Ramon Valley Unified School District, which has installed roughly 10,000 photovoltaic panels at five of its 35 total schools at a cost of $23 million. Under the most optimistic projections, the photovoltaic panels would offset energy usage at the schools by 67 to 75 percent. 

According to spokesman Terry Koehne, the San Ramon Valley Unified School District will pay back the loans courtesy of the energy savings from using the solar installations. However, this won't be a quick payback for the school system -- it will take roughly 16 years to break even on the photovoltaic panels.

Koehne, however, points to the upside of embarking on this expensive venture; "It's pure profit after that. And following that, we're going to start realizing savings of $2 (million), $3 (million), $4 million a year."

Like many schools across the nation, California schools are facing a serious budget crunch. Less money means fewer teachers, fewer teaching assistants, and more students per classroom. By making this move now, the school district is hoping that the future payoff will allow it use its resources more wisely. 

Lower production costs, thanks to stiff competition from Chinese companies, is causing a surge in the adoption of solar panels. One of the causalities of the race to the bottom in panel costs was Silicon Valley-based Solyndra. The company received a rushed $535 million loan courtesy of the Obama industry during 2009 in order to bolster its operations.

However, the company two years later filed for bankruptcy and axed over 1,000 employees. Interestingly, an email that was sent out before final approval of the loan was granted rightly projected that the company would run out of money by September 2011. 



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RE: My mom always told me...
By JKolstad on 9/18/2011 4:28:41 PM , Rating: 2
Your mother's advice is reasonable enough for individual consumers, but it'd be poor advice for anyone trying to run a business or a country.

You have to consider why she even says it -- for most people, what they're really saying is that, "about the only thing you arguably *need* that'll retain or increase in value but that is typically far too expensive to purchase outright is a house." When it comes to business, what's their 'need?' Nothing more than to make money, you know? As such, the justification for when a loan does or doesn't make sense isn't as simple as some mother's quote. :-)

(Also note that various laws play a large hand in this as well -- being able to deduct mortgage interest from your taxes makes home ownership almost a guaranteed 'win.')

Not that I'd suggest the decision to purchase these panels is necessarily a great decision -- I think even the most objective reviewer would have to say it's somewhat risky.


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