No decision made on NPCSC solar farm

Sunday, April 26, 2015

A special meeting of the North Putnam Community School District board was held last week to address possible construction of a solar farm to power North Putnam schools.

Although a quorum was present, and a few community members were in attendance, the board did not want to make a decision on the matter without the full attendance of its members.

If approved, the solar farm would create a net zero power balance for the school.

The board has welcomed input from the community and continues to encourage feedback.

The issue will be brought up for a vote once more at the school's regularly scheduled monthly meeting, currently slated for 7 p.m. Wednesday, May 20.

Johnson-Melloh Solutions, the same company responsible for the current renovation projects across North Putnam schools, is the company being considered for the project.

The construction company has made its own headquarters energy neutral using solar panels and is responsible for the solar farm at the Indianapolis International Airport.

According to Cooper and superintendent Dan Noel, a number of factors have come into consideration.

One is the financial independence that can be achieved by running a net-zero energy balance.

While storing solar energy remains expensive, during months in which more energy is harnessed than use, an energy credit would be applied to the school's account.

When a solar farm produces energy, it effectively just runs the energy meter backward.

If it passes the zero-point, the school is credited.

According to Andy Cooper, Business Developer for Johnson-Melloh Solutions, historical data from the past half-century is used to help calculate how much sun a given region is expected to see on an annual basis.

"We tend to upsize systems anywhere from 5-8 percent so that (if in) a certain month we don't get the predicted amount of sunlight and we need a little more power we're going to have it available to us," Cooper explained.

"If there is a month that we get more sunlight than we expect and we overproduce that month, we get a credit and that credit is a credit moving forward. So if there's a month that, let's say we're supposed to owe (the energy company) five dollars, it will be taken out of the credit account.

"When we build a solar model we build it by years. Over 12 months, from the data that we have today, we can accurately predict that 'we're going to produce this much.'"

Those credits continue to build until the school decides to use them, perhaps during an exceptionally cloudy month for example.

As part of that financial independence, being able to take greater control over monthly energy expenditures also makes figuring future school budgets simpler, according to Cooper.

"Currently they (the school) are paying about nine-point-eight cents per kilowatt hour and by doing the math, the price of the solar array and what the kilowatts per hour that would be produced, we're going to generate that for about seven cents per hour."

"There's a continual guarantee that the school is not going to be out of pocket during any month"

Savings for the school corporation are estimated at around $3.4 million over the next 20 years.

The calculations of financial savings as well as sunlight predictions come from fact-finding efforts using 50 years of information for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

"We've also tracked back what the utility rates were 45 years ago as compared to today," Cooper said.

"And we're expecting obviously to see much larger increases in the upcoming years and that's kind of what is driving this whole course of action."

The school has sought a contract that provides three layers of protection for the physical panels as well as required maintenance.

Johnson-Melloh has agreed to a five year maintenance agreement, the panels themselves have a 25-year manufacturer's warranty and the school would also take out an insurance claim against the solar park.

With changes in coal production, EPA regulations and expected rises in energy costs related to those issues.

Noel and the school board will re-address the issue during the regularly scheduled meeting.

Public inquiry and feedback has been encouraged by the school corporation and those interested may contact Noel by telephone, email or through attendance at the next school board meeting.

The next regularly scheduled school board meeting is slated for Wednesday, May 20 at the school corporation administration office at 300 N. Washington St. in Bainbridge.

Regularly scheduled meetings of the North Putnam School Corporation Board of School Trustees are conducted at 7 p.m. on the third Wednesday of each month and are open to the public.

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