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B-P school district expects solar array active by June

By January 9, 2018December 4th, 2023News
Man in front of snowy field

(Image Courtesy: Zachary Matson)

Zachary Matson
January 9, 2017

A 10-acre solar array that has been years in the making is expected to come online by June on property at the edge of the Perth intermediate school campus.

Construction of the array is set to begin this month, according to Broadalbin-Perth Superintendent Steve Tomlinson. Crews must first pound posts into the ground that are needed to hold scaffolding for 330-watt solar panels – nearly 5,900 of them in all.

District officials promise the solar project will cut the district’s utility costs and save millions in coming decades. It also establishes a culture of conservation and brings students a new educational asset, which will be infused into lessons at all grade levels.

“The district is really putting its green foot forward,” Tomlinson said Thursday.
The solar array will pipe energy directly into National Grid power lines, crediting the district for each kilowatt-hour of energy produced and automatically deducting the value of that energy from the district’s utility bills. The district pays $200,000 to $300,000 a year for energy, Tomlinson said.

The savings will be used to pay part of the local share of a $39.7 million capital project approved by voters in 2016, districts officials have promised. The savings are projected to be as high as $5.3 million over the array’s 25-year lifespan, about $3.6 million of which will help cover capital project payments.

The solar project was designed and sized to generate savings to match the district’s utility costs; the savings don’t completely wipe out the utility bill, though, as the district will still pay a discounted rate for energy generated by the array.

When the district was approaching its first capital project after losing an enhanced state reimbursement rate for merged districts, officials explored ways to reduce the cost of the project to local taxpayers. That’s when the conversation turned to solar.

“We have a revenue stream that can offset the local share by a significant amount,” Tomlinson said.

In May 2015, the district released a request for proposals from solar project developers, eventually signing an agreement with Buffalo-based Solar Liberty in early 2016. Fourteen months later, the project had its permit from the state Education Department and other agencies. Fences and stakes to indicate the array’s layout went into the ground last month.

The district owns the land and hosts the solar array; Solar Liberty developed and will maintain the project, while Colorado-based AES Distributed Energy paid for the construction and owns the array. The district will pay a regular rate, stipulated in the contract, to access energy credits from the array. At the end of the 18-year power agreement with Solar Liberty, the district has the option to extend the deal for a 7-year term and again for five years.A new classroom tool

The solar array also promises to open new academic opportunities. The district is planning a nature trail that will loop around the array and other parts of the over 40 acres the district purchased to house the array.

A constant stream of energy generation data and pricing will also serve a real-life lesson on energy markets. Young students can study the basics of the sun and its energy, while advanced business and science students can use a case study from their backyard as they study renewable energy sources.

Solar Liberty has plans to work with the district on infusing solar lessons into district curriculum.

“We will be teaching a way of life here,” Tomlinson said.