Posted august 29, 2013
District Seeks Grant to Go Solar
Proposal Projected to Save District Taxpayers $1.7 Million Over 20 Years
The sun is shining on South Colonie Schools these days – lighting the way for the district to potentially cut its yearly electric utility charges in half with a new solar energy system that can be purchased, installed and maintained at no cost to taxpayers.
How can such a bright idea even be possible?
While most people were lying in the sun this summer, the district was exploring how to harness the sun’s energy to help power its schools and offices. The end result is a proposal which could be funded through a grant from the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) and save the district $64,000 in the first year and $1.7 million over a 20-year period.
If the grant is approved, this could be “the largest district-wide public school solar installation in New York State to date,” said Tim Carr, Strategic Account Manager of Monolith Solar Associates.
“It sounds too good to be true, but I assure you it is,” Carr told the South Colonie Board of Education Tuesday night. “Solar is extremely popular today. There are state incentives out there to go solar and savings for a district this size would be significant.”
Superintendent Jonathan Buhner said the district has spent the past four to five months researching its options and went through a competitive bidding process for a vendor that would install the solar energy systems at 11 district locations and maintain the systems over 20 years at no cost to the district. That vendor would then sell the electricity produced through these solar panel systems to the district at roughly half the cost it is paying now.
Monolith was the chosen vendor and the Board of Education approved a Power Purchase Agreement with the Rensselaer company Tuesday night, pending approval of the NYSERDA grant. Under that agreement, the district would pay Monolith a fixed rate for electricity over 20 years of about .036 cents per kilowatt hour compared to the .076 cents per kilowatt hour or so it is paying now to National Grid.
And that's only the beginning as the savings are expected to grow as the years pass by, Carr said.
“Think of it like gasoline prices,” Carr said. “They are continually going up and down at the pump but the trend over time is to go up. The same is true with electricity costs. So by locking in a rate now there is certainly money to be saved every day going forward.”
More than 5,700 solar panels
The completed South Colonie solar energy system would total more than 5,700 solar panels and be installed on the roofs of the district’s eight schools and the Transportation Department offices. There would also be a fenced in ground system at Colonie Central High School, near the intersection of Sand Creek Road and Raider Boulevard, that would power the high school’s athletic field lighting, press box and scoreboards. The final system, location to be determined, would power the District Office on Loralee Drive.
Under the plan, South Colonie schools and offices would be 80-100 percent solar powered, the highest level allowed by New York State under the current 200 kilowatts per meter limitation. The rest would be powered through conventional electricity purchases through National Grid.
There is also an educational component to the plan. Monolith has created an Internet-based energy monitoring system so students and educators can be “clued in” daily on the solar energy that is generated by the South Colonie system and each building’s solar power usage. Monolith also has a curriculum coordinator on staff, Carr said, to work on lesson plans with teachers “from elementary school on up.”
Based in New York’s Tech Valley, Monolith Solar, a 4-year-old company, has recently been recognized as a Top 3 New York State PV installation company. With offices in Rensselaer, Hudson and Queensbury, the company covers a territory from the Canadian border to Westchester County, and as far west as Syracuse. The company installs solar energy systems for residential, business and municipal use. Its more recent school clients have included school districts such as Schodack, Stillwater, Mayfield and Fort Plain, as well as Siena College. Municipal clients are Schenectady County and the Town of Niskayuna, and business clients include Harley Davidson, Key Bank and others.
NYSERDA is making solar grants available through its New York Sun Competitive Photovoltaic (PV) Program, to encourage alternative energy uses by corporate and municipal entities. Monolith is currently assisting with the district’s NYSERDA application, which Carr told the school board he is confident will be approved as long as grant money remains available. Once the application is submitted, the approval process normally takes 60-90 days. If approved this fall, the district would be looking at a winter installation. According to NYSERDA regulations, all projects must be installed within eight months of the award date.
“This is great for our district,” said Board of Education President James Tim Ryan. “It sounds like a win-win situation for everyone. We look forward to seeing this project move on to a successful completion.”