With schools across the state and nation facing tough decisions and budgets, one school district was able to find a way to save money every year on energy costs without taxpayers footing the bill.
In August 2013, South Colonie received a grant from the state for the installation of more than 5,700 solar panels that will be installed at 11 district locations — making it the largest school district project in the state.
The grant from the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) would help the district save over $60,000 in its first year and approximately $1.7 million in energy costs over the next several years. Monolith Solar Associates, out of Rensselaer, was the vendor chosen by the school board.
Over the next 20 years, the district will pay monolith .036 cents per kilowatt an hour, compared to the current rate of .076 cents per kilowatt it is currently paying National Grid.
“It was nice. We didn’t plan it that way, but it ended up that we looked for fixed rates and certain packages. And it turned out it was clearly the best plan for the district. We’re pleased it’s a local company, and it happened to work out that way. We had some national players in there too,” said South Colonie Superintendent John Buhner.
Monolith will be installing the solar panels throughout the district at no charge. Monolith will own and maintain the system, recouping some of the costs through tax incentives.
President and CEO Mark Fobare said the system would provide more than just energy.
“We’re giving them a laboratory to get kids ready for the job market and the future. This goes way beyond the basic energy costs,” said Fobare.
Monolith is part of numerous other projects in the state and one of the biggest solar panel providers in the Northeast.
Installed in every building will be a monitor displaying real time data on the energy being provided and used. The system will provide power and educational opportunities.
“There is a component at the high school we’re looking forward to. The system that will be installed on the football field will produce enough to pay for the lights all year on the athletic facility, soccer and football. It will also pay for the all the power use for the scoreboards and concession stands,” said Buhner.
Buhner said it would also give technology teachers a chance to introduce to students to how solar panels work.
“Part of that is we have a plan to have one of the panels be accessible to our technology students. It will be gated, the teachers will have access to that and it will have a system that will spin around and they can use it as a teaching station for the kids,” said Buhner. “We have engineering and science programs in the school that I’m sure will want to take advantage of that.”
The project began in the spring of 2013, and with innumerable hours put in by Buhner and the Board of Education, the project was approved in August of this year. The district had to present information on the specifics of the project and prove it’s durability and how it would save cost for the school in the short and long term.
New York State currently has a 200-kilowatt per limitation. Under that limitation, some of the smaller buildings and offices in the district will be 80 to100 percent solar powered. The additional energy will still come from National Grid.
Currently in the review process, Buhner said that kinks in the plan should be worked out in the very near future after the plan meets New York state specifications.
“I think we’re down to just some details, and hopefully we can get those things nailed down in a week or two. My hope is that we have panels going up in the next month or two,” said Buhner.