2012-05-05 / News

Lakewood approves solar project

By Charles Prince

HEBRON – Lakewood School Board members unanimously authorized Superintendent Jay Gault at an April 27 special meeting to enter into a Purchase Power Agreement with Tipping Point Energy, Inc.

The decision came after about 90 minutes of presentations and discussion at the 7 a.m. special meeting. Gary Taylor with Sabo/ Limbach Energy Services explained the energy savings proposal. His report stated, “Lakewood is energy efficient, one of the best districts in our database (200 buildings).” Efficiency ranges from 82 at the high school to a high of 98 at the intermediate school, Taylor said. A score of 75 or higher is required for federal Energy Star designation so every Lakewood school would qualify.

Lakewood has done two House Bill 264 energy conversation project where the energy cost savings is used pay off the project costs. The first, in 2002, replaced the inefficient Hebron Elementary boiler and upgraded several others, saving $150,000 a year. The second, in 2006, focused on roofing at the middle school, saving $84,000 a year. HB 264 project debt must be repaid with savings in no more than 15 years.

Taylor said the district now wants to replace 50-year-old windows at the middle school. Paybacks based on energy savings are 38-40 years which means the project doesn’t qualify for HB264 financing.

Taylor said the solar photovoltaic project – generating electricity with solar panels – became the way to generate savings to pay for the new windows. The total energy savings project cost is estimated at $917,707 with $612,000 for the replacement windows. The balance will be spent on lighting refits in all district buildings.

The solar project doesn’t require a cash investment from the district, though it will take cover six-seven acres of district property. It is sized at 1,000 kWe, with 295 kWe (1,284 4’x8’ modules) behind the intermediate school and and 705 kWd (3,068 4’x8’ modules) south of the high school student parking lot.

Eric Zimmer, CEO of Tipping Point, presented the solar details. He estimated $680,513 in savings from the solar project over the 20-year contract. That savings is based on the three percent per year escalation in the cost of solar power and a four percent per year increase in the cost of AEP power based on the January rate structure that was pulled back.

Retired Hebron Village Administrator Mike McFarland quizzed both Taylor and Zimmer on the plans. He focused on the improvements in technology over the next 20 years as it relates to both solar and conventional generation. Zimmer said the solar panels will not be upgraded during the contract. Nor will they be the more efficient tracking panels due to the maintenance costs. He said the panels would be tilted 30 degrees and that snow tends to run off them. Zimmer acknowledged that “if power rates don’t go up, you could end up paying more for solar.’

He said the investors take all the risk on whether the renewal energy credit program continues. REC’s are sold to Ohio utilities so they can avoid penalties for failure to meet renewal source requirements for generating electricity. The April auction price was $0.185 per kW hour.

“There is a risk that the investors could go bankrupt,” Zimmer said. “I would be glad for that to happen” since the district would no longer have to pay them for the power generated.

“Everything is a risk,” President Judy White said. “We are forward thinking and pro-active on this… We don’t lose anything in this deal.”

“We need to maintain the building,” board member Forest Cooperrider said. “This is a chance not to have to borrow any money…I don’t see any down side.”

Board member Bill Gulick said, “There is no cost or loss to this school district at all. Why not go try?”

“It’s important to maintain the buildings,” board member Trisha Good added.

“I think it is a net plus for the district,” board member Tim Phillips said . “The projections are conservative.”

“Solar panels say we embrace technology,” White added.

After the unanimous vote, Mc- Farland thank board members for the opportunity to comment on the proposal throughout both presentations.

“I applaud you for your service,” he told board members.

With the approval of the energy project, Sabo/Limbach will submit it to the Ohio Schools Facilities Commission (OSFC) and the Ohio Energy Office. Taylor expects OSFC will approve it by the end of June. Financing for the window replacements and lighting upgrades should be secured by mid-August. Work should begin in early October. “We may need to find a flex-space for students,” Taylor said.

In other business during the special meeting, board members unanimously approved a 12-month power supply agreement with alternative supplier Direct Energy. Lakewood will be paying Direct $0.04565 per kW hour for generation. The district will still pay another $0.043 per kW hour to AEP for demand charges, transmission and distribution. Taylor said it’s paying 9¢ versus “what looks like” 12¢ from AEP.

Board members also unanimously increased student lunch prices from $2.35 to $2.45 for next school year and approved the purchase of a new 71-passenger school bus. Shelly Young’s resignation as assistant to treasurer was accepted. She has completed her education and will be a kindergarten teacher at Hebron Elementary next school year. Sixth grade science teacher Rose Jones’ retirement was also approved.

The board’s next regular meeting is set for 6:30 p.m. on Wednesday, May 9 at St. John’s Lutheran Church, 6004 Linnville Road. It is part of the board’s effort to reach out to their local communities.

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