It’s only been a few months since crews installed 5,240 solar panels above the parking lots at Payson High School and already three buses have plowed into several sections.
The latest incident happened two weeks ago when a bus driver from an out of town school struck the overhang, damaging bus, panel and structure in the dome parking lot.
So far, the only panels damaged are in the dome parking lot, which features low-hanging, open-sided parking structures and sharp curves designed for vehicle access. The lot was not planned to handle school buses or travel vans.
Unfortunately, out of town drivers dropping athletes off at the dome do not realize this and inadvertently get stuck in the parking lot trying to turn around, said Casey O’Brien, superintendent with Payson Unified School District.
Luckily, most of the damage has occurred to the parking structures themselves and not the panels.
All of the panels remain operational, O’Brien said, adding that no students have driven into the structures.
“For students we have done a lot of communication, so if they have a high truck, they know to be careful,” he said.
On Tuesday, O’Brien discussed signage and repair options with the project’s developer Kennedy Partners and NRG Solar.
Maximum height signs should be posted at the entrance of the lot soon.
“Our concern is that they are not meant for buses to drive through there, so we are working on getting signage up,” he said.
Since PUSD does not own the panels or parking structures, they are not covering the cost of repairs. NRG Energy, which put up $12 million to install the system is making any needed adjustments, O’Brien said.
The unique public/private partnership means PUSD will take ownership of the equipment after 15 years with no initial investment.
The loan re-payments equate to roughly what the school pays now in utility costs. Once paid for, the district will enjoy about a decade of nearly free energy.