Panels will reduce electric bill by $21,000 annually
By Michael Turton
The Haldane Central School District has entered the era of solar-generated electricity with the completion of a project in partnership with Monolith Solar of Rensselaer, New York. The $852,000 project cost the school district nothing but will substantially reduce its electric bills. Part of the project cost was covered by a grant from the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA).
A contract between Haldane and Monolith known as a Power Purchase Agreement includes the installation of 958 solar panels on the roofs of the high school, middle and elementary schools, district office and garage. Monolith installed, owns and will maintain the system throughout the 20-year life of the agreement. It makes money by selling the bulk of the electricity generated at Haldane to the national grid, while providing reduced rates for the district.
According to Mike Twardy, Haldane’s director of facilities, the district’s electrical bill was about $85,000 last year. The agreement with Monolith guarantees Haldane at least a 25 percent reduction in the cost of its electricity, or a minimum annual savings to taxpayers of $21,250. The more electricity the system generates, the greater the savings.
Enough electricity for 400 homes
In a presentation to the Haldane School Board on Dec 1, Lindsey McEntire of Monolith said the system will generate up to 349,030-kilowatt hours of electricity annually, or enough power to supply more than 400 homes for a year. On average, the project will generate about 60 percent of Haldane’s electrical needs. During periods when the Monolith system is offline, such as at night, the grid will supply Haldane’s electricity.
Superintendent Diana Bowers said “it was a fun project to work on.” The project was undertaken “to be more ‘green,’ to reduce our carbon footprint, as well as to realize cost savings,” she said. The project also has great potential as an educational tool for students in every grade. “Students will be able to follow this project for years,” she said. While lessons for younger students will focus on the environmental benefits of solar energy, including how it saves trees and reduces emissions, older students will be able to delve into the math, physics and chemistry behind photovoltaics.
Monolith uses the educational potential of its installations as a marketing tool, providing schools with numerous teaching resources. The company has contracted with 16 districts across New York and McEntire said that number will triple within two years.
One resource Monolith provides is a real-time, online monitoring system that tracks the productivity of Haldane’s system. Students, teachers and the public can monitor the high school portion of the system at locusenergy.com by logging in with user name firstname.lastname@example.org and password solar21. Electrical output can be viewed in graph form by the day, week, month and year. Similar websites are also available for the main building and district office components of the system.
The company also installs residential systems and has offered to donate $250 to Haldane’s Science Technology Energy and Math (STEM) Program for each local resident who contracts with Monolith to install solar at home. The residential program gives homeowners the option of purchasing the system. McEntire said that the average “price range for installation is $7,000 to $10,000 and that the typical return on investment is about two years. She also said NYSERDA offers grants to homeowners.
School Board trustees first discussed a solar energy project in 2012. The system was up and running at the district office and garage in July of this year and at the high school a month later. The main building’s system was completed in November.
Solar panels more efficient in winter
Solar panels convert the sun’s energy into direct current. An inverter transforms that power into alternating current, which is fed into the schools’ electrical systems. Bowers commented that one of the interesting and perhaps counterintuitive aspects of the project is that solar electricity is generated more efficiently in winter than in summer, a fact that is confirmed by energymatters.com.
“A popular misconception is that solar panels work best on the hottest days,” the website states. “In fact, it’s quite the opposite. Heat is the enemy of solar panels; it’s just that during summer the days are far longer.”
The site also points out that solar panels function more efficiently in cooler weather. “A blue-sky winter’s day can see some amazing levels of power produced on an hourly basis compared with summer.” The downside of winter solar electric production is the reduced number of daylight hours and the greater number of cloudy days.