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 serious about 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 or loan. 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 at an all time low and solar panel prices dropping significantly, the electricity savings should exceed the value of the payments on the PV system. The 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 rebates or incentives to their non-residential customers for energy efficiency improvements and renewable energy systems. But even without additional incentives, the cost of today's PV systems is becoming much more affordable than it was just a few years ago.

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. If you are located elsewhere in California or 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.

There are a number of financial options available to purchase or lease PV systems. With the passage of Proposition 39 in November 2012, school districts may have even greater access to low- or zero-interest funding.

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 who is responsible for installing and maintaining the PV system during the contract period. 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.