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Whitney Point installing solar panels on three schools

WHITNEY POINT, NY – The Whitney Point Central School District is aiming to cash in on Mother Nature.

The district is installing 489 solar panels on three schools, a $587,000 project that, officials said, will help the environment and save on annual energy costs.

Workers from Buffalo-based Solar Liberty are installing photovoltaic panels at the high school to convert solar energy to electric power. Panels are also being installed at the primary school and Tioughnioga Riverside Academy.

The rural district is the first in Broome County to undertake a project of this type, although the Broome County Public Library installed 114 solar panels on its facility last fall.

Interest in solar panels is growing as the price continues to decrease, making the payback period more reasonable for schools, said Christopher Kopec, mechanical department manager for Bearsch Compeau Knudson Architects & Engineers.

“The only real downside is getting over the initial first costs,” he said, adding a number of local districts are beginning to talk about the idea.

An incentive for Whitney Point is the award of a $197,000 grant from the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority to help pay the initial costs, Superintendent Mary Hibbard said. State building aid will cover 98 percent of the rest of the price.

Whitney Point officials estimate the district will save $22,000 — about 10 percent — on its annual electricity costs.

Solar Liberty has installed solar energy systems at more than 50 school and university buildings across New York, said Craig Knorr, the company’s coordinator for the Whitney Point project. The technology is getting better and state grants are providing an incentive for the work.

Another incentive is an expansion of New York’s net metering program that allows electric customers who renewably generate energy to sell what they don’t use back to the grid, said Fred Riordan, the district’s project manager.

“The panels now work whether it’s sunny, or not sunny, or whether it’s cloudy, raining or snowing, as long as there’s daylight,” he said.

Whitney Point officials expect to have the panels installed and operating in a month.

By George Basler