Jefferson Local Schools Superintendent William Mullett looks over a solar energy array at the West Jefferson High School/Middle School complex that is expected to begin generating power in November.
Six acres of solar panels stretch across a field behind the football stadium at Jefferson Local Schools high school/middle school complex. The panels stand ready to harvest energy from the sun and reduce utility costs for the district.
Jefferson Local is the first school system in central Ohio to take advantage of an offer from Solar Planet to serve as a model site for the companys solar panel array at no cost to the district.
“Its an exciting program for us, said Superintendent William Mullet.Its fairly unique for a school district like ours to have something like this.
“Jerry Corbin, who is a representative for Solar Planet, is also a sports official who saw our athletic complex. He was impressed and thought it would be a great place for the companys solar panels.
Mullet said he is tuned into ideas that can save the district money and was very interested in Solar Planets offer to install the $5 million array at no cost, considering the potential savings of thousands of dollars in utility bills for the district.
Once the array is connected to the power grid and generating electricity, Mullett estimates the district could save $50,000 to $90,000 per year on top of cost avoidances from other projects already in place.
The project took a year to come together as the school board and Solar Planet ironed out details on placement, AEP connections and legal agreements.
“It was a real learning curve for us, and Im very pleased the board was willing to take a gamble on this project, Mullett said.There was a lot of wrangling in protecting the interests of the district. The agreement with Solar Planet is for 25 years, and they are responsible for the 4,000-panel complex.
According to Mullett, the project can legally produce 70 percent of the districts electrical needs, but exceeding that amount would put Jefferson Local into the category of an electric company.
“When were getting full sun and sending power back to AEP, we can get that amount back in winter like an energy credit, Mullet said.AEP now charges us 10 cents per kilowatt and their rates keep going up. Solar Planet only charges six cents, so were going to save at least four cents per kilowatt.
“The agreement is a cost-saving benefit for us, and Solar Planet benefits by getting money for power, tax credits for green energy, and significant depreciation for equipment. Its a win-win for both sides.
In conjunction with the array installed at the high school/middle school, a renewable energy lab will be built to serve as a learning lab for students.
“It was the brainchild of one of the Solar Planet engineers, and we expect it to be up and running by the end of summer next year, Mullett said.
Norwood Elementary could be the next site to host a solar panel array, but presents more of a challenge when it comes to placement and aesthetics. Mullet said space is available and options include mounting the panels on the buildings roof.
“It certainly is doable, and Solar Planet is willing to do the same project at Norwood, but it will take some feedback, Mullet said.
District takes all angles on reducing gas, electric use
In addition to addressing utility costs via a solar energy array, Jefferson Local Schools is in the third year of a gas and electric utility cost avoidance program. The results have included replacement of gym light fixtures, a retrofit of all light fixtures in the district, rewiring of night lights and installation of occupancy sensors in every room. A high-efficiency boiler was installed and variable frequency drives were added to the gym air handler units.
Treasurer Jill Smith said the project cost Jefferson Local $658,000 and was projected to take five years to pay off, but only took two years due to higher-than-expected cost avoidance savings. The district took out a loan for a portion of the project and funded the remainder through interest from a previous Ohio School Facilities Commission project.
In Fiscal Year 2009 (the last year prior to the installation of cost-saving measures), the district paid $319,022 for electricity and $182,061 for gas. For Fiscal Year 2012, which ended this summer, the cost for electricity was $219,968 and $36,238 for gas.
As of September of this year, Jefferson Local saved a total of over $560,800 in gas and electricity costs for Fiscal Years 2010-2012. The savings are expected to increase once the solar array is operational in November.