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Sun isn’t shining on solar power plans

HEBRON – The now second promise of less expensive solar power for Lakewood Schools still hasn’t been met.

“I didn’t anticipate this many hurdles,” said Jerry Corbin, Solar Planet’s business development coordinator, as he updated Lakewood School Board Sept. 11.

In February, board members agreed to begin working with Solar Planet Company on a solar power purchase agreement, or PPA, to purchase roughly 60 percent of the district’s power needs from a Solar Planet-installed solar array.

The agreement revives plans to use the projected savings from the solar project to repay a loan to finance replacement of old and inefficient windows in the middle school, per House Bill 264.

Last year, board members unanimously authorized Superintendent Jay 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, solar panels would cover acres of district property. 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 investors and backed out of their contract proposal. When the district secured an attractive electricity price on the open market, it appeared that solar power would be on hold indefinitely.

Solar Planet is working to pick up the project where Tipping Point dropped it. While Solar Planet says it has all the equipment ready, it continues to haggle with AEP over an interconnection agreement.

“We now have an agreement in principle; it’s going to happen,” said Corbin. The original plan was to supply solar power to the high school, the intermediate school, and another building. Corbin said supplying power to the high school is not an issue, but AEP regulations have made it difficult to provide solar generated power to other buildings, such as the intermediate school and Jackson Elementary or the middle school.

“If we’re only hooking up one building, we’re far from getting started,” said Gault. “The HB 264 project will be denied because there’s not enough savings.”

“We’re going to get there,” said Treasurer Glenna Plaisted of the solar project. But, she said every time Solar Planet and AEP negotiate a point, it delays the project another 30 days. She said it’s best if the high school, the intermediate school, and Jackson Elementary receive solar generated power. “The high school side is fine,” she said. Plaisted said it may be winter before construction on the solar arrays begins.

“We’re not really sure where it’s going at this point,” said Corbin Monday. He said the schools other than the high school are so small that it’s difficult to involve them in the project per AEP requirements. As far as whether the project will continue, “It’s up to (the school board),” said Corbin.

In other district news:

• Director of Pupil Services Arnie Ettenhofer said the district is addressing the lower scores it received on the most recent state report card, which gave letter grades instead of “excellent,” “effective,” and so on. Lakewood received low marks on students’ academic growth.

“We are continuing to implement FIP, Formative Instructional Practices, that we started last year with a partnership with Battelle for Kids,” said Ettenhofer. He said FIP are the instructional practices, formal and informal, that teachers and students use to gather and respond to evidence of student learning. “FIP will help us all be more effective teachers and learners,” he said.

Ettenhofer said the district is also continuing to use scientific research based programs called Corrective Reading and Reading Mastery from SRI/Mcgraw Hill. These programs are used to strengthen students’ fluency and comprehension in reading. “We had measurable growth in our reading progress this past year,” he said.

Ettenhofer said Lakewood will hire a full-time math coach to work collaboratively with classroom teachers to coach and implement quality math instruction. “As one can see by studying our results, our students made more growth in their reading scores than they did in math this past year,” he said. “Math is our weakest area district wide.”

• Gault said the school year is off to its smoothest start in years. “There’s a positive atmosphere in the buildings,” he said. “It’s the best start to the school year in the nine years I’ve been here. I could not be more proud.”

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