While many of us have been ringing in the new year, Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E) and other state utilities have been ringing in significant new rate hikes.  PG&E has announced utility rate hikes of 13%, a slight relief from the initially proposed 18% but quite shocking when you realize that PG&E rates have doubled over the last 10 years! Things are not much better in Southern California.   Following a rate increase of 17% In 2022, SCE requested a 2024 rate increase of over 13%, but it appears the actual approved increase will be between 6 % and 8 %.  If it feels like we have been through this before, it is because we have.  Utility rate hikes now seem to be as inevitable as death and taxes.

While this news has created waves of concern among Californians, one sector that’s particularly feeling the impact is the state’s school districts. The repercussions of increased utility costs can significantly strain tight 2024 budgets, affecting educational resources and student well-being.

California’s school districts are no strangers to financial challenges, and the utility rate hikes add another layer of complexity. With energy costs being the second highest cost line item for a school district right after personnel costs, the increase puts pressure on already limited funds. School districts, responsible for providing quality education, now find themselves grappling with the need to balance essential services against rising energy costs.

What can school districts to do combat the rising electricity expenses?

Hats off to the over 2,400 California school districts that have already deployed solar PV systems under the recently closed Net Energy Metering and are benefiting from generating their own power and avoiding these rate increases from the utility.

Unfortunately, the California Public Utilities Commission sided with the utilities to end the Net Energy Metering program as of April of 2023. So, what can schools without solar do today to mitigate the rising electricity costs?

Schools can install solar-powered battery systems under the new Net Billing Tariff to create resilient & renewable-powered schools. By correctly sizing a battery and powering it with solar, schools can maximize electricity usage from on-site solar and battery (i.e., self-consumption) and limit exports to the grid. The new Net Billing Tariff does not provide much value to solar exports.  The combination of self-consumption and export avoidance schools will maximize bill savings. What’s more, is that the batteries powered by solar can provide backup power during Public Safety Shutoff (PSPS) events when microgrid capability is added. The microgrid capability enables a school to set the batteries to fully charge in advance of a PSPS event to provide the school with maximum backup potential.

If your school district has not yet explored the energy opportunities offered by on-site solar and battery storage systems, now is the time to act to combat these rising utility rates and turn your campuses into one of many Resilient & Renewable Powered Schools in the state of California.  A long-term investment in renewable energy can provide financial and environmental benefits for many years to come and serve as an example to students of good governance and environmental stewardship.  Installing solar and battery systems on your campus sites can be a complex project with several factors to consider.  This is the work that TerraVerde Energy has been providing to California schools for over 14 years.

CAUTION: There are pitfalls!

There are important pitfalls and hurdles to be aware of for schools with existing solar when undergoing solar expansions and battery installation projects.  Any changes or modifications to your solar system may impact the eligibility of your current NEM tariff.

Read on it in our previous blog post on An Emerging Threat to Solar Savings for Schools

While the utility rate hikes pose a challenge for California school districts, the deployment of solar power at school sites and the integration of battery energy storage systems provides a beacon of hope. By harnessing the power of solar installations and strategically managing energy consumption, schools can not only offset the impact of rising utility costs but also contribute to a more sustainable and resilient future for education in every corner of California.

TerraVerde Energy is here to help California School Districts navigate these waves of change, as we provide independent consulting to ensure that districts make wise energy decisions.  I would like to help so please contact me for a free consultation to take the first step in the right direction for energy savings.

Phil Villagomez, phil@terraverde.energy

TerraVerde Energy, (619) 471-5943

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