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Solar Power Advocates Pushing AUSD Have Ties to Solar Power Vendor

A non-profit pushing solar power on AUSD has ties to a solar power vendor. (File Photo)

A non-profit pushing solar power on AUSD has ties to a solar power equipment vendor. (File Photo)

Updated, 8:05 p.m., June 9th –Tom Kelly of KoytoUSA provided a response.

A group of renewable energy advocates that operate under multiple names, and whom are pushing to the Alameda Unified School District to adopt their Solar Master Plan, have ties to the San Jose-based solar power equipment vendor they suggest in their master plan, Action Alameda News discovered today.

The Solar Master Plan will be brought up at Tuesday evening’s Alameda Unified School District (AUSD) Board of Trustees meeting, under a referral item from trustee Trish Spencer.

The plan spells out how most Alameda schools could be outfitted with rooftop solar panels to generate electricity, for an estimated cost of roughly $15 million, paid for with a combination of general obligation, and other, bonds.

The master plan further indicates that it was prepared by Helios Bay Area and KyotoUSA; the websites for both organizations list the same Berkeley Hearst Street address and one Tom Kelley as the contact.

The KyotoUSA website explains that the organization “is an all volunteer, grassroots organization that encourages U.S. cities and their residents to reduce the climate altering greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) for which they are responsible.”

It also lists Helios as a project aimed at putting “renewable energy systems on every California public school.”

Would-be donors to either of the two efforts are directed to send funds to a non-profit based out of La Jolla, CA called the Sequoia Foundation.

According to IRS forms for the non-profit, the vast majority of its revenue in 2012 came from Government grants; Tom Kelly is also listed as a director of the non-profit.

To arrive at the cost estimate to deploy solar panels for AUSD, the report author(s) – Tom Kelly’s e-mail address and Hearst Street address are listed – assumed that, “SunPower Corporation’s high efficiency panels are used.”

SunPower is a publicly traded multinational corporation with its headquarters in San Jose, California.

In a 2009 article with Planet Shifter Magazine, Tom Kelly of KyotoUSA explained that “KyotoUSA recently partnered with SunPower Corp. and MuniBond to complete applications for Clean Renewable Energy Bonds (CREBs) and Qualified School Construction Bonds (QSCB) that can enable districts to purchase photovoltaic systems that are cost-neutral to the districts.”

KyotoUSA’s approach seems to be to write, unsolicited, Solar Master Plans for school districts and then urge them to adopt the plan.

In a November 2011 Solar Master Plan written for the Berkeley Unified School District, available on the Helios project website, Tom Kelly wrote in his introduction, “We are especially grateful to SunPower Corporation for their contribution to the development of the Aerial Assessments chapter.”

He also thanked Steve Nielsen of MuniBond Solar, a consulting outfit that helps school districts structure bond financings for solar projects.

Action Alameda News tried to reach Tom Kelly by e-mail to ask about the nature of the relationship between KyotoUSA/Helios and SunPower; an auto-response indicated he was “away from the office” until June 13th.

Nonetheless, Tom Kelly did follow-up by e-mail, to say, “We advise all school districts to put their projects out to bid. In this way we protect ourselves from allegations that we are tied to them. Many solar companies have expressed interest in working with us, but when let them know that we make no recommendations to an individual company, they generally disappear. I think it fair to say that we perform an important function for Districts and vendors as we help districts to fully understand how to approach solar projects. No one else to my knowledge does that especially as it takes a long time for projects to be developed. In the case of AUSD we first spoke to Superintedent Vital fours years ago and we’re still not quite there!”

SunPower Corporation media relations officials had not responded to a similar inquiry by press time.

The timing of Helios and SunPower does not appear to be an accident – school district officials tomorrow night will also consider language for a ballot measure for November that would ask voters to approve some $180 million in general obligation bonds, some of the proceeds of which could conceivably be used to finance solar panel powers for Alameda schools.

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