Neighbors living adjacent to Vintage High School say their property values will plummet if the school district moves forward with a plan to install solar panels in the school’s back parking lot.
From her home next to the campus, Diane de Santis has a nearly unobstructed view of the hills around Silverado Resort. Once the installation occurs, de Santis said, her view will be replaced with rows of dark solar panels.
“I bought this house because of the beautiful view,” said de Santis, who purchased her home nearly a year ago.
After consulting with her real estate agent, de Santis said the solar panels could reduce her property’s value by $50,000 to $100,000. While she knew living on Jefferson Street would mean traffic noise, she never expected to lose the peacefulness of her backyard.
“I want the school district to look at us as their neighbors, and not just people who complain,” de Santis said. “What you do on your property affects us.”
The Napa Valley Unified School District’s plan is to build carport structures with solar panels on top in the southwest parking lot next summer. The height of the structure closest to the Jefferson neighbors’ property line will be 10 feet on the low end and 13.6 feet on the high end, said Don Evans, director of school planning and construction.
The original proposal was to build structures 14 to 17 feet high, but the plan was scaled back after neighbors complained, Evans said.
A proposed carport structure along Regina Drive has been scrapped, and the carport structure closest to the Jefferson neighbors’ property line will be pushed back — so the structure will be built 136 feet from their backyard fences, Evans said.
The angle of the solar panels will also be lowered so that the sun does not reflect into neighbors’ homes, and smaller inverters will be used so that noise from the system does not travel into classrooms or homes, Evans said.
De Santis and her neighbors said the proposed changes don’t go far enough.
“We asked them to come up with a low-impact solution,” de Santis said. “This isn’t low impact.”
De Santis, along with several of her neighbors, attended a recent school board meeting to voice their concerns. The neighbors asked the board to consider alternative locations for the solar installation, including the front of the school, along Trower Avenue.
“Aesthetically, it would help the school,” de Santis said. “It would be like a badge of honor: ‘We’re solar-efficient.’”
Evans said the front parking lot at Vintage is not an option. The school district recently invested millions in bond money to improve the “presentation” and traffic flow of both Napa High and Vintage. Installing solar panels would require removing newly planted trees and other landscaping, Evans said.
Other areas of the campus property were also considered but ultimately rejected. Undeveloped land at Trower Avenue and Jefferson Street, for example, contains a creek and numerous oak trees, Evans said.
“It’s not an appropriate location from an environmental standpoint,” he said.
Open areas near the athletic fields were rejected because of the risk of sports balls damaging the panels.
The southwest parking lot, which backs up to the Jefferson Street homes, is where the most land is available, Evans said.
The school district’s board of trustees agreed with Evans. When Superintendent Patrick Sweeney asked if the trustees would like to view the neighbors’ properties, trustee Frances Ortiz-Chavez said that, for her, there was no need.
“I don’t like to continue a conversation when I don’t see that there’s going to be a better solution,” Ortiz-Chavez said.
Ortiz-Chavez went on to say that she’s known Evans for about 30 years, and she trusts that he has considered every alternative.
“He’s probably the man that I admire the most working for the school district because he’s thoughtful, he’s smart, he looks at everything, and then he presents it to us,” she said. “I know I can trust him, so that when he comes and says there’s no other place, there is no other place.”
The school district’s goal is to offset 100 percent of Vintage High School’s annual electricity needs. The estimated annual savings will be approximately $300,000, Evans said.
The solar panel installation at American Canyon High School brought that school’s utility bill down to $74 for all of last year, he said. Normally, the bill for American Canyon High would be about $225,000.
Money to pay utilities comes from the school district’s general fund — so any cost savings can go elsewhere for education, Evans said.
“That’s money we can’t say no to,” Ortiz-Chavez said.
Vintage High School is one of a few different sites that will receive a solar panel installation next summer. The other sites are Napa High School and NVUSD’s main administration building, along with the adult school next door.
The school district was awarded approximately $4 million in Proposition 39 funds to help pay for energy projects, Evans said. The funds from Proposition 39 will cover about two-thirds of the construction costs, he said.
While they support the use of solar panels, de Santis and her neighbors said their concerns have been brushed aside by school officials. The school district may be lowering its utility bill, but it’s the neighbors, according to de Santis, who are paying the price.
“Why does it have to be zero dollars in energy costs at the cost of $100,000 to my house?” she said.