Tonopah Valley partners with APS, installs solar panels

APS is installing an array of 770-kilowatt solar panels at Tonopah Valley High School.

With the sun being an endless source in Arizona, Saddle Mountain Unified School District partnered with APS earlier this year to install solar panels at Tonopah Valley High School.

An array of 770-kilowatt solar panels was implemented at Tonopah Valley.

Dr. Paul Tighe, the district’s superintendent, said the partnership is something from which both parties will gain.

“(The project) is part of a unique partnership with APS — they call it ‘Solar Communities Program,’” Tighe said. “There is kind of a win-win situation where they put the (solar) panels in at no expense to the district, and through a 20-year agreement we give them a place to put them without buying land or renting space.”

He continued, “(APS) expends their solar network, which is good for the environment, and (Tonopah Valley High School) gets covered parking, which will help our employees and student vehicles as well as extend the life of the asphalt in the parking lot.”

The Solar Communities Program is targeted at customers with limited income streams as well as moderate-income customers who want to access rooftop solar energy. Lily Quezada, a spokeswoman for APS, said the program goes beyond residential customers, however.

“The program also includes a limited number of projects for Title I schools, nonprofits, multifamily housing and government entities throughout the state,” Quezada said.

The school district applied to the Solar Communities Program last fall, and Tonopah Valley was one of the few sites APS selected. Tighe said the application process went beyond just filling out forms.

“They did come and do site visits and reviewed blueprints, so the application wasn’t just what we submitted,” Tighe said. “It was (APS) following up with a site visit and inspections of equipment, looking at the layout, where they would have to dig things up, how much site work was needed and how good the site was for an array (of solar panels).”

Solar energy is increasing in popularity with residents, schools and businesses, and Saddle Mountain Unified School District is no exception. Tighe said district officials are willing to make the transition for all locations.

“Certainly through this kind of program, I’ve offered that we would be happy to host (solar panels) at all of our sites — we have plenty of parking lots still available,” Tighe said.

Unfortunately, due to the lack of funds, the transition to solar energy comes with obstacles.

“I don’t believe that the district at the time would have the funding to invest in purchasing or leasing our own solar panels, so at this point our plans would be to keep looking for opportunities with this kind of program with APS,” Tighe said.

Currently, APS is collaborating with different Arizona-based solar installers to advance Arizona’s solar leadership and impact. Quezada said the drive for APS is to make solar power more accessible to all.

“We want to make sure that we advance (solar energy) in every part of the state — not only to customers who can afford it themselves — but also to the other groups who may have never thought they could have solar on their rooftops,” Quezada said.

The solar panels bring more energy than the school would need to consume in a sunny day, according to Tighe.

Tonopah Valley High School has all the panels up, but the project is still in its final stages, as of print time. After some finishing touches on the wiring, the solar panels will be up and running just in time for the 2019-20 school year.