HEBRON – Through next July, it’s more economical for the Lakewood School District to purchase energy on the open market than to build a series of solar arrays, but that could change, said Lakewood Superintendent Jay Gault.
School board members are considering restarting plans to purchase solar-generated power and using the savings to replace old and inefficient windows in the middle school. House Bill 264 has allowed districts since 1985 to borrow money without voter approval to make energy improvements provided the projects generate enough energy savings to repay the loans.
Last year April, board members unanimously authorized Gault to enter into a 20-year power purchase agreement with Dublin based Tipping Point Renewable Energy. Though the solar project didn’t require a cash investment from the district, it will take cover six-seven acres of district property. It was 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. The project’s economics were based on federal tax credits for high-income investors and renewable energy mandates. Tipping Point was unable to secure enough to fund the project and backed out of their contract proposal. When the district secured a good electricity price on the open market, it appeared that solar power would be on hold indefinitely.
Now Gault has told board members that the district’s energy consultant, Mark Taylor with SABO Limbach Energy Service, says Columbus based Solar Planet can pick up the project where Tipping Point dropped it. Taylor says Solar Planet has sufficient investors and the solar panels are in stock and ready to install. Gault added that open market electricity prices are now expected to increase significantly. He said the prediction is that within three years, the open market price will be more than seven cents per kilowatt-hour. The district currently pays 4.565 cents per kilowatthour through June. The Village of Hebron agreed Wednesday night to a 15-month open market contract with AEP Energy at 4.9 cents per kilo-watt hour.
Gault said the solar array would produce 60 percent of the district’s electricity with Solar Planet maintaining it for 25 years. He estimates the district would save roughly $1 million during that 25- year period. Gault said the risk is if open market prices fail to increase as predicted then the district is stuck with a solar array that’s costing the district more than buying conventionally produced power.
“What do you know of that the price is going down,” asked board member Forrest Cooperrider, who supports the solar project based on the prediction. “It looks like we would save money in the long run,” he said. “And, we’re getting new windows (for the high school) out of the deal.”
Cooperrider said he had doubts about Tipping Point, but is more confident in Solar Planet’s ability to follow through with the project. “They already have the panels,” he said.
“It’s a big step,” said board member Bill Gulick, who as of Wednesday morning said the solar power plan was “okay,” but he was undecided if it would be advantageous for the district. “It could be and it couldn’t be,” said Gulick, although he was pleased it could help the middle school get new energy efficient windows. He said discussing the solar power project was on Wednesday night’s school board agenda, but he was unsure if the board would actually vote to approve the project.