North Putnam schools to harvest sunshine

Sunday, August 2, 2015
The southern end of North Putnam High School will look a bit different this year as a 1.6 megawatt solar installation will be placed on its roof. (Banner Graphic/Nick Wilson)

The upcoming school year may provide a change of scenery for students of North Putnam High School.

In fact, if they haven't noticed already, each school within the corporation has been receiving crucial updates in anticipation of the masses that will soon begin pouring through its doors.

The addition most likely to be noticed -- a solar panel "farm" located on the roof of North Putnam High School, as well as a five to seven-acre installation on the grounds.

Dan Noel, superintendent of the North Putnam School Corporation, as well as Chief Operating Officer Bob McKinney and Project Development and Account Manager Andy Cooper of Johnson-Melloh, took the time Friday to explain to the Banner Graphic what all this will mean, and how it will impact the students.

Noel said the entire process of renovating North Putnam schools actually began more than a year ago.

"We had some problems in our schools with the air conditioning and air quality -- and everything," Noel said. "Our board, at that point, interviewed around seven companies . . . about what they can do with the buildings through a program called Debt Service.

"They are about $2 million projects," Noel continued. "Johnson-Melloh won the vote and became our contractor. You can say it's energy, you can say it's renovation -- but basically, it's energy. We [then] did a $2 million renovation of Roachdale Elementary."

Johnson-Melloh is a "vertically integrated design, engineer, build and service firm with a wide variety of facility maintenance and retrofit capabilities." The company is partnering with Noel and North Putnam schools to introduce a brand new way to generate revenue and cut utility costs over the next 25 years.

With limited revenue options available, Noel said besides overall student population and grants, generating money for the school can be difficult. However, with the installment of a solar-panel farm, students will be able to enjoy better conditions at each of their respective schools, which include a newly-pitched roof, carpeting and ventilation systems.

Initially seeking wind turbines as a way to reduce utility costs, McKinney and Cooper suggested solar panels because they have "immediate payback," whereas wind turbines generate electricity intended directly for utility companies' use.

Furthermore, solar panels fall within the guidelines of Zero Metering and Zero Net laws in Indiana, in which the school can build a type of credit with the utility companies. In short, the more energy they produce throughout peak-times of the year (typically in April, May, September and October), the more energy credit they will receive in the cold months when the sun is not as high in the sky.

So far, the agreement has worked well, Noel said. In fact, the project hasn't gone unnoticed. From Terre Haute, where Noel gave a recent speech, to Indianapolis and beyond, Noel has been approached by multiple schools who want to see what they can do about starting a similar program.

In addition, Noel and the people at Johnson-Melloh say that, due to ever-evolving technology, solar panels and otherwise renewable energy will be crucial in the coming decades as the world's population booms and non-renewable energy sources deplete.

The implementation and education of such advancements for our youth, Cooper said, is paramount.

"We're trying to bring all of those avenues back to North Putnam, and in turn that will bring kids back to the school," Cooper said, citing that, due to aging facilities, families have sought enrollment at other schools.

"It's also about giving our current students the best facilities possible," Noel added. "We want people to say 'wow, these facilities at North Put, they have the latest and greatest of all this technology.'"

Relationships and trust, the trio said, are what makes our economy run. In fact, Johnson-Melloh believes in this principle so much that they literally hosted a cookout upon completion of Roachdale Elementary's renovations. That, Noel said, is something you can't find just around the corner.

Thanks to these relationships, many things are possible, ranging from the ability to offer competitive wages to school staff to saving money in the long-haul.

Financial benefits

The 1.6MW direct-current solar farm will take less than four months to construct and will reduce the school's carbon-footprint.

Net energy expenditure savings to the school will be in the range of $2.9 million over the span of 25 years.

Although the life-expectancy of such farms are about 25 years, Johnson-Melloh expects to see no more than a drop of 20 percent efficiency at that time.

The program will stabilize the corporation's utility budget by only requiring a fixed-rate for power for 20 years, then all power produced thereafter is free.

Environmental benefits

Prevents approximately two million pounds of carbon dioxide emissions, nearly the same as removing 4,400 cars from the road, or the same as planting 5,600 acres of three canopy.

Could power the equivalent of approximately 150 homes.

Some other interesting statistics concerning solar farms and renewable energy include:

From 2004 to 2014, nearly 200,000 jobs have been created nation-wide.

87 percent of all electricity generated in Indiana still comes from coal or natural gas-reliant refining plants.

Though this plan may seem ready to begin, Noel and the school board want to make the best decision possible. Therefore, although six board meetings have already been held, another will take place soon to present the final projections for adoption.

Education, savings, relationships and trust are crucial, Noel said, and the benefits to the students this year at each of North Putnam's facilities will undoubtedly be the envy of the entire region.

To learn more about this project, or if you have any questions, contact Superintendent Dan Noel and the North Putnam School Corporation at 765-522-6218 or, or visit

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