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Lakewood considering solar power, energy reduction projects

HEBRON – Lakewood Superintendent Jay Gault is certain an energy plan will save the district significant money, but he’s not sure yet how much.

Lakewood School Board members met in a special session early Tuesday morning to discuss adding solar energy to the district and working with a company call SABO Limbach Energy Service to improve energy efficiency in district buildings.

“We haven’t signed any agreements,” said Gault, adding that the board will basically repeat the same presentation during its March 13 meeting (this month the board will meet on Tuesday night instead of the usual Wednesday night) and he anticipates board members will vote whether to go ahead with working with SABO Limbach and Tipping Point Renewable Energy to boost efficiency of existing buildings and create a system to produce solar energy for the district.

“This is for us to chew on,” said board president Judy White. She said SABO Limbach and Tipping Point schedule special meetings with school boards so members have all the information and can ask questions before everything is presented again during regular board meetings. “The board is in favor of solar,” said White. She said an anticipated rise in electricity prices is encouraging the board to explore energy alternatives.

Gault said he believes solar cells could save 80 percent on electricity costs for the Lakewood high, intermediate, and middle schools. He said SBO Limbach’s work would be financed through the Ohio School Facilities Commission Energy Conservation Program House Bill 264. The Energy Conservation Program allows school districts to make energy efficiency improvements to their buildings and use the cost savings to pay for those improvements. “The savings you get has to be more than the payment for the loan,” said Gault.

Frequently called the House Bill 264 Program (after the 1985 law that created this financing mechanism), the Energy Conservation Program gives districts the ability, in this one limited instance, to borrow funds without having to pass a ballot issue for the authority to borrow. This limited borrowing authority has given districts the ability to save millions in utility bills and operating costs, and all at no additional taxpayer expense. “The district doesn’t take on any debt,” said Gault. He said there are many energy efficiency upgrades the district needs, such as replacing the middle school’s single pane windows.

Eric Zimmer, founder and CEO of the Dublin, based Tipping Point Renewable Energy, told board members previously that the district would have no up front or maintenance costs and could save $650,000 over the next 20 years if the company installs a solar power system on campus. “We get paid by producing power,” he said previously. “If we don’t produce power, we don’t get paid,” Zimmer said a 1.2-megawatt system could produce 85 to 90 percent of the power that all the district buildings – except the administration building and Hebron Elementary School – require. AEP would supply the remaining 10 to 15 percent.

Gault said if the board approves solar, he expects that panels would be installed in a fenced area behind the intermediate school, far back from the road. Gault said the district has the option to buy the solar power system eventually. “Then your electric is free,” he said.

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