West Jeff Schools reaping benefits of solar power

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By Linda Dillman, Staff Writer

When Jefferson Local Schools joined forces with Solar Planet to construct a solar panel array on the grounds of the high school, the district knew it would eventually save a few dollars on utility costs.

Today, preliminary numbers are in and they look good.

In September 2012, the district used 116,700 kilowatts before the project started gathering its own electricity in force when sunlight became more abundant in spring 2013.

Electrical usage from AEP lines dropped by nearly half, from 106,200 kilowatts in January of last year to 47,400 in February because the panels were drawing in their own power from the sun.

The district then began returning electricity back to the grid when it generated 23,700 kilowatts of its own from the solar panels in April 2013 and reached a high of 50,100 in July for the current reporting period, thereby creating a reserve it can tap into at a later time.

In September 2012, the average electricity cost per day was $142.20. A year later, that number was nearly cut in half to $73.73 per day.

“Aside from legal costs, it (the project) was all free,” said Superintendent William Mullett. “When Norwood goes online, we expect similar savings. It didn’t cost us a penny, and Solar Planet gets tax credits and green energy credits.

“I’m proud we got on board early on in the process.”

Dialogue on a similar project at Norwood Elementary began a couple of years ago when the district was working on the high school project. The high school site will eventually include a learning lab connected with the solar array installation. 

“We decided to do the high school first to see, frankly, if things worked and also because some board members felt the array in the Norwood neighborhood would be objectionable visually,” reported Mullett.  “That is why we decided ultimately to do a roof project (at Norwood).

“There is no advantage or disadvantage for Solar Planet or us for the roof project, except in the event you had to replace or repair roofs, then obviously the system would need to be temporarily disconnected to the area that needed repaired.”

After months of discussion, Solar Planet and Jefferson Local finally came to an agreement for the elementary school installation. Mullett expects the project to begin construction this spring and not impact instruction. 

Mullett said a more accurate savings picture is still uncertain because of the complexities of billing and all of the entities involved. 

“We are planning to meet soon to go over billing information with Solar Planet, but AEP in particular usually needs a full year of data to start reflecting charges differently. I also think there is still an adjustment needed on the part of Solar Planet and AEP on the amount of reimbursement we receive when we put power back onto the grid. 

“These are some of the discussions we will have soon,” Mullett continued. “The system is clearly working well and producing power. How Direct Energy, AEP and a new company like Solar Planet start to adjust to this market may take some time and even legal work to entirely reflect fairness for all entities.”

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