Three NS schools will be all solar-powered after upgrade
MT.PLEASANT—The North Sanpete School District has a major $6-million power overhaul planned for all schools in the system this summer, and officials say they’ve figured out a way to do it without raising your taxes.
They’re going to tax the sun instead.
Three of the district’s schools will be powered completely by solar energy by summer’s end.
While contributing to roughly half the cost of the project, those solar installations were only included in the plan to help pay for all of it, said Superintendent Sam Ray.
The other half is comprised of heating-system upgrades at three other schools that Ray said were absolutely necessary.
According Ray, several schools have heating systems that are “failing fast.”
“The schools of Fairview, Spring City, the high school and the middle school were all built in the 1980s and have outlived the life expectancy of their power systems,” Ray said. “Those systems are breaking down fast. All of them need work. We have some that need major parts, others that are held together with duct tape and baling wire.”
Over the past year, the school district has studied the issue, bringing in engineers and other experts to determine necessary fixes. Original estimates came in at about $3 million; how to afford that became the next issue.
Consultants and district officials developed an ambitious plan, one that actually added another $3 million to the project, but which will then go on to pay for the whole $6 million without placing undue burden on the district’s budget or its taxpayers.
By the end of the summer, each one of the district’s schools will have energy-saving modifications like LED lighting, weather stripping and insulation.
But North Sanpete Middle School and Moroni and Fountain Green elementaries will also get solar panels.
“We’re going to fix every school this summer. We’re going to have schools fail if we don’t, and the last thing we need is a school’s boiler going out in the middle of the winter,” Ray said.
The school district has received a $576,224 Rocky Mountain Power Blue Sky grant to build a 206-kilowatt solar array at the middle school which will pay for that system in its entirety.
The rest of the project will be financed by a 20-year, no-interest bond which the school district plans to procure this month. Paying back the loan will be a unique process centering on the solar-power installations.
All three systems will utilize net metering, where unused generated solar power can be fed back into the power grid to offset costs. That, along with power-bill savings from the other energy-conservation measures, is what makes the project financially feasable.
“We’ll be paying $100,000 to $160,000 for the first year, but by the end of it, the energy savings will pay for the whole thing,” Ray said. “We’re not going to be paying electric bills, so that money can be used to pay off the systems at Moroni and Fountain Green. After five or six years, they will be paid off and the savings can be put toward paying off the loan.”
District officials have also been mindful of the greater community as they have planned for these systems. They plan that, in an emergency, the school will be able to serve as a community shelter, providing the community with a warm, safe place to stay.
“That’s one of the reasons we got the Blue Sky grant,” Ray said.
Under normal circumstances, large solar systems shut down for safety reasons during power outages. However, the system at the middle school will run on a set of batteries that can last three days without sun or indefinitely if recharged by sunlight.
Ray said local contractors will do work. The district is currently in the final stages of contract negotiations.
The solar arrays at the three schools will also bring learning opportunities for students. Beginning next year, middle school students will have access to interactive displays and video presentations that will teach them about the solar power in use at their school, according to North Sanpete Middle School Principal Odee Hansen.
“It’s a great resource for our kids, put right in our own backyard,” he said. “They’re already exposed to renewable energy, but this will be hands on. It will be very valuable for the kids to see the units and how they work.”