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BOCES Solar Panels Power Education

Solar array on rooftop

The 216-panel solar array will generate 53 kilowatt hours in a year, approximately 3.8% of total annual campus electric usage. (Photos courtesy of David Pitcher)

Written by Dan Veaner

TST BOCES officials are power hungry.  Hungry for solar power, that is.  Director of Career & Technical and Alternative Education Tony DiLucci says that one use for the new 53 kilowatt solar array on the roof of the Automotive Trades building on the Warren Road campus could be to power a greenhouse for a ‘Greenhouse To Table’ project, but the educational value doesn’t stop there.

“In reality I can see that one little venture including over 100 kids,” DiLucci says.  “That’s just one thing, not to mention all of the science instruction that (science teacher) David Syracuse is planning to develop.  There is science instruction in our Exceptional Education program, and I am sure that the science teachers there as well as in our alternative education program will use it, and our social studies teachers when they talk about global climate change… the opportunities are endless.”

Installation of 216 3×5 foot panels is complete, but Energy Management Coordinator Chris Santospirito and Supervisor of Facility Services David Pitcher are waiting for inspections to be completed before the system is turned on and hooked up to a Web-based monitoring system that will allow teachers and students to track statistics from the panels in real time.

Pitcher says that TST BOCES has been interested in obtaining a solar system for educational use for a long time.  When the Energy Management Service (EMS) was formed more than three years ago Santospirito found a solar leasing opportunity with Buffalo based Solar Liberty that would save money in the long run with no up-front cost to the BOCES or the taxpayers.  In 2012 Tompkins County signed a 15 year lease with Solar Liberty for panels county officials estimate will save taxpayers nearly $14,000 in annual energy costs.  The BOCES array is on a much smaller scale, but it will not only pay for itself in energy savings, but the school will end up saving more.

“It’s a positive cash flow venture,” says Santospirito.  “They will generate enough electricity and the lease payments are low enough that they will end up paying less for those 50,000 kilowatt hours per year than they are paying the utility companies.  As the cost of electricity goes up that savings will increase exponentially.”

“That was key,” Pitcher adds.  “Until that happened we never had that possibility.  Once that presented itself it was a no-brainer.”

TST BOCES Energy Management Service consists of Santospirito and Alwin John, who are currently serving 7 school districts.  They help districts manage anything to do with energy efficiencies on their campuses and buildings.  In Lansing, for example, they monitor and audit savings from the school district’s Lansing’s Energy Performance Contract, which was actually completed before EMS was created.  Their role is to quantify which savings are realized as a result of the contract and which are not, to get an accurate tally to apply to the guaranteed savings contracted for.

“Since then we’ve become involved in measurement and verification of that contract,” Santospirito says.  “We have sat at the table with Johnson Controls and the School District to provide an auditing service on their measurement and verification reports.  It was a good project for them.  They got a lot of savings from that because it was driven by an enormous amount of lighting retrofits.  Lighting generates a lot of savings.”

Santospirito says that the solar project has taken longer at BOCES than other local solar arrays, because getting required State Education Department approval is a lengthy process.  Now that the array is finally installed, she says she expects inspections and final hookup to take place within the next few weeks.  The system will generate approximately 53 kilowatt hours in a year, which amounts to approximately 3.8% of total annual campus electric usage.

Career & Tech programs are driven by interest of students from the BOCES’s client school districts.  While some programs thrive, others loose their appeal.  That was the fate of the trade electricity program a few years ago.  While an electricity component remains in the building trades program, DiLucci says that interest in modern, sustainable energy sources could restore interest in electrician programs, among others.

“I think this might breathe some new life into our construction trades program,” he says.  “When we talk about the generation of alternative energy.  I certainly see this as an opportunity for Ryan Walczak and our heavy equipment and environmental science program to leap into the 21st century, so to speak.  If we can’t maintain programs one way, then we have to give these young people the kind of programming they want. I can see that as a jump-start.”

“It’s a two discipline process,” Santospirito adds.  “You can’t just hire someone off the street and it’s important for kids to know that.  Then, when the installation is complete, licensed electricians come in to make all of the power connections.You have certified installers.”

But DiLucci isn’t just interested in the obvious benefit to construction trade programs.  He is considering ways to integrate the panels into other programs such as social studies and science classes, and food services.  He says he will be applying for a grant to pay for a small greenhouse for a ‘Greenhouse To Table’ program he sees as a way to integrate the solar array in the Culinary Arts program.

“We want to do more with sustainability in our hospitality program,” he says.  “I can see the generation of electricity to maintain climate in a greenhouse that would ultimately allow us to produce fruits and vegetables that we can put on the table.  We’re not talking about serving the entire United States Army!  But we’re talking about teaching youngsters how to do it on a small scale so when they do get into college or a career they have that concept and they can do it on a bigger scale.”

DiLucci says that innovative ideas come from every aspect of the BOCES campus, not just from teachers.

“We are really lucky and our kids are really lucky,” he says.  “I work with people on this campus such as Chris and David work on on the facilities side of this campus yet they realize that if it weren’t for the educational opportunities none of us would be here and our youngsters wouldn’t have the opportunities we can provide.”