Written by Kelly Kaczala
April 13, 2012
Starr Elementary School will have solar panels on its rooftop this fall.
It’s the most recent effort by the Oregon City Schools district to cut utility costs with environmentally friendly “green energy.”
The school was chosen to receive the panels because its roof was replaced last year in anticipation of the project, according to Dean Sandwisch, the district’s business manager.
“The more we explored it, the more it made sense,” he said.
The Oregon school board last month authorized a power purchase agreement with Solar Planet, a company in Columbus, said Sandwisch.
According to the agreement, the district will purchase 100 percent of the power that the solar panels will generate, he said.
“We will purchase 7.25 cents per kilowatt hour, compared to our current 9.6 cents per kilowatt hour we buy from Toledo Edison. So there will be an immediate savings of about $7,000 annually. It’s not hundreds of thousands of dollars in savings, but it’s significant. Anytime I can grab $7,000 in savings, I certainly will do so,” he said.
Another benefit is that there are no upfront costs to the district, he added.
“Solar Planet owns the array and will install and maintain the panels. They do everything. We don’t have any upfront costs whatsoever. When they start producing electricity, we buy it from them at a 30 percent discount. So it’s a nice, clean, easy deal for the district.”
The 2’ by 3’ panels will cover much of the school’s roof, he said.
“They’re looking at a 240 to 250 kilowatt array, which will cover most of the roof at Starr,” he said. “The new roof has a 35 year guarantee. There’s no penetration of the roof by the solar panels, which will be weighted down by a ballast system. So it won’t void the warranty of the roof.”
There is no word on who will manufacture the panels, though he hopes it will be a local company.
“We’re still working with them to see who the manufacturer will be. They really like to use local manufacturers whenever they can, for the racking system and the panels. It’s very conceivable we’ll use someone from the area,” he said.
The solar panels, which convert sunlight into electricity, will provide between 80-85 percent of the electricity on the Starr campus.
“Let’s say it only provides 70 percent because it’s extra cloudy this month,” said Sandwisch. “We’re obligated to buy only what it produces. But obviously, the more it produces, the more we save,” he said.
Toledo Edison will still provide the school with a small percentage of electricity.
“Solar Planet has to negotiate with Toledo Edison to see how big the array can really be. When they are producing the most, which will be in the summer, we are using the least because we’re not in session. So there’s a negotiation that has to occur between Solar Planet and Toledo Edison,” said Sandwisch.
“We are very hopeful that by the time the kids come back from summer break, the panels will be on the roof and operational,” he said.
Jerusalem Elementary may be next in line for solar panels, he said, because its roof is only two years old.
The solar panels are the latest green technology used by the district to cut costs.
Two 100 kilowatt wind turbines have been in operation at Eisenhower Middle School since February 1. A 900 kilowatt wind turbine will be up and running at Clay High School within the next few weeks, he said. It will produce up to 80-85 percent of the electricity at the school.
“The cranes are in place right now. And the towers will start to arrive and be quickly assembled. We’re very hopeful that by the first week in May, it will be running for us,” he said.
“All together, we’re looking at $3 million to $4 million in savings over the course of the leases,” he said.
After the solar panels are installed, the district will be the largest public school producer of alternative energy in the nation, said Sandwisch.
“Right now, after our wind turbine is up, we’ll be third in the nation for wind power for public schools. Added together with the solar, we will be the top producer of alternative energy in the nation,” he said.
Sandwisch and Jeff Zsigray, the district’s facilities supervisor, will take a trip to Youngstown to look at the possibility of installing a biomass furnace, another form of renewable energy, in one of the schools. A biomass furnace uses wood, grass and other organic matter as fuel to produce heat and electricity with less effect on the environment than fossil fuels.
“Jerusalem Elementary, which uses propane and fuel oil, is a very expensive building to heat. So we’re looking at the prospect of using biomass boilers for the building. We’re just exploring anything we can, and educating our kids along the way,” said Sandwisch.
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