Selma Unified School District students and officials are waiting the final connections for new solar panels.
Eight of the district's 11 schools have had solar panels installed over the last six months. Citing rising energy costs, district officials are joining the search of alternative energy.
"We expect that the first year the panels will be fully operational, we'll save at least half a million dollars," said Larry Teixeira, district assistant superintendent for Business Services. "In our minds, we've already spent that money four or five times over, so you can see that people are excited about having that additional money freed up for other facilities usage."
The five-member school board voted unanimously for the $13.5 million project nearly two years ago.
"We'll be paying off that financing within 17 years at zero interest. Over the 25-year expected life of the panels, we expect to save $22 million in power and utility costs," Teixeira said.
Currently, the annual cost to power the entire school district is between $700,000 and $900,000.
"We'll probably save 80 percent of that per year on average," Teixeira said.
The solar panels will generate five megawatts over the eight school sites. Washington and Garfield elementary schools and Heartland Continuation High School do not have sufficient space to house panels. The district purposely did not install panels on rooftops.
An additional cost would have been necessary for the state architect to survey the integrity of the rooftops to handle the load.
Students in Roy Swift's science class at Selma High have learned plenty about the panels, even before the February switch takes effect.
"The solar panels are a great idea, but the one disadvantage is when the sun is not out," said Eduardo Murillo, 18, a senior in the Future Farmers of America program. "Although here in the Central Valley we get a lot of sun, I think the hands-on experience we're getting here about the panels is much better than we can get out of a book."
"We're going to run sheep under them. This small field has a dual purpose: We can plant grass for the sheep, and it's a good place for the solar panels too," said Justin Winter, 17, a senior and FFA president.
"It's a great way to conserve our natural resources. Solar is a great way to produce energy. It's renewable and it's low impact on the earth," said Jacob Coigny, 17, a senior and FFA secretary.
According to Teixeira, the entire project started with a proposal in 2011, when Indoor Environmental Services (IVS) introduced a financing package with the zero interest loan. Board members researched the project then sought an estimate from a second contractor, but signed with the first proposal.
For a $50,000 annual fee, IVS will handle the full-service agreement that covers all maintenance and inspections.
To ward off vandalism, the panels are connected to an alarm that will notify authorities if tampered. An adjustment in the district's insurance covers the panels.
PG&E is expected to complete the final inspection this month.
Selma Unified joins nearby districts Fowler, Firebaugh and Las Deltas Unified, who have already switched to solar panels.