MARTINEZ -- The Martinez Unified School District is cutting costs and capturing income thanks to the California PG&E ratepayer investment in solar power.

PG&E presented a symbolic $1 million check to the district during a March 27 ceremony at Martinez Junior High School, featuring newly installed solar arrays.

The $1 million represents the amount of California Solar Initiative (CSI) fund incentive rebates PG&E expects to give MUSD over the next five years for installing solar systems at nine school sites.

"There are very few ways for the district to create revenue," district Superintendent Rami Muth said.

Muth talked about the value of partnerships with business, as well as other governmental entities, calling the construction of the solar arrays a "living legacy" for Martinez.

Martinez Mayor Rob Schroder said the city is employing similar kinds of energy-saving strategies and collaborating with MUSD at monthly meetings.

"Under the leadership of Rami Muth, the city has been able to find ways to better serve our common constituents," Schroder said.

Voter approval of Measure K, allowing MUSD to continue to sell bonds to pay for school facility improvements is a key to the solar-driven environmental benefits and financial bonanza. About $5,845,800 of the total bond money will be used to pay cash for solar installations.

With that investment, the district becomes a solar power producer entitled to a reduced PG&E rate, and provides a CSI rebate of about 11 to 12 cents per kilowatt of MUSD power production during the next five years, according to David Willard, a principal of Sage Renewables, the lead renewable energy consulting firm for the MUSD projects.

"It is a great deal for schools," he said.

MUSD pays about 18 cents per kilowatt, according to Kevin Stein, energy education specialist for the school district, who explained, "Utility bills are paid out of the general fund. The cost avoidance (reduced PG&E bill) will leave more money in the general fund."

MUSD's photo voltaic systems are designed to cover 90 percent of each school site's average PG&E bill. They are guaranteed for 20 years (including maintenance) and expected to last longer, according to Aaron Jobson, principal architect with Quattrocchi Kwok Architects of Santa Rosa, who designed the systems.

"Every site is different," Jobson said. "We look for solar access, a minimal loss of trees and how the structural impact would best benefit the school. And cost is a factor."

Martinez Junior High Principal Helen Rossi said the historic character of the 82-year-old building was important.

"We wanted to maintain the integrity and beauty of the school," she said.

Jobson chose south- and west-facing ground level sites behind the school. It took Solar City about four months to complete the installation of 18,000 square feet of panels at a cost of $987,605.

Upcoming MUSD solar projects at Las Juntas Elementary School include a solar panel array in the parking area, combined with entry and drop-off area upgrades. An addition to the Alhambra High School Performing Arts building will also incorporate solar.

Stein noted that solar installations are the other half of an energy cost avoidance effort begun by the school district in 2011.

"The district hired Cenergistic, a leader in behavior modification and source of experts on energy savings to help us for the first four years," Stein said. "We have avoided about $165,000 in costs since the beginning of our program from April 2011 through August 2012."

Behavior modification involves actions such as turning off heating and cooling thermostats at night and when the school is closed for vacation, and installation of controlling hardware and energy-saving devices. Stein monitors the results for the district.

"We expect to save about $200,000 per year on our PG&E costs through the behavior modification," he said.

A portion of the savings goes to pay the consultants for the first four years.

State Sen. Lois Wolk, D-Davis, who serves on the Senate Committee for Energy, Utilities and Communications, said, "I applaud the school district's work to improve its energy efficiency and utilize solar energy to create cleaner air and local jobs with positive cost savings for the district."

Wolk spokeswoman Melissa Jones-Ferguson said Wolk is working on SB43, which is intended to remove obstacles that deter schools and local governments and others from investing in off-site renewable energy. Utility customers could buy a portion of the off-site energy and get credit for it on their PG&E bill.

Contact Dana Guzzetti at dguzzetti10@gmail.com or call 925-202-9292.