Helios Bay Area

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HELiOS and You

Where better than our public schools to start the transition to a renewable energy future?

Where better than our public schools to start the transition to a renewable energy future?

The HELiOS Project began as an effort by KyotoUSA and Berkeley residents who were concerned about climate change, and saw an opportunity to turn their concern into action. We realized that we could avoid many tons of greenhouse gas emissions by encouraging our schools to reduce their energy consumption and by facilitating the installation of renewable energy systems on school roofs and parking lots. Doing so would also provide a financial benefit to our schools and give us an opportunity to show our children that we are tackling climate change.

HELiOS is a simple concept – a school district pays for a photovoltaic system (PV) with a voter-approved bond or a low-interest bond. In the latter case, the district pays for the PV system with the money it saves from reducing or, in some cases, eliminating its electricity bill. With the "cost" of money relatively low and solar panel prices dropping significantly, the electricity savings should exceed the value of the payments on the PV system. The economic goal is to make the PV system transaction revenue-positive to the district from the moment the system is turned on!

HELiOS is well suited for communities served by utilities that provide rate structures that are favorable to solar projects. For example, Net Energy Metering (NEM) where the utility pays you the retail value of electrcity exported to the grid, can be helpful for schools that are generally closed during the summer when schools with solar export lots of electricty.

Our description of the HELiOS Project is based on our experiences working in northern California, where Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E) supplies the electricity. California was one of the early states to offer incentives to install solar, but those opportunities in California are no longer available with the exception of NEM and more recently, battery storage. If you are located in another state, research your local utility's incentive programs before you get started. Local, publicly owned utilities (POUs) may offer better incentives than the larger, investor-owned utilities (IOUs). The Database of State Incentives for Renewables and Efficiency (DSIRE) is a great place to start looking for information about the available incentives throughout the US.

We always recommend that a District purchase and own its PV system whenever possible. Alternatively, Districts may get a financial benefit from entering into a Power Purchase Agreement (PPA) with an investor/developer who is responsible for installing and maintaining the PV system during the contract period. The benefit to the school district is that it buys all the electricity generated by the solar at a rate lower than what they would otherwise pay their local utility. A PPA is a very complicated transaction, requiring the help of a consultant who is well versed in this type of transaction and is working only for the benefit of the school district.

Links to resources to help create "green" California schools are identified and described on the Resources page.