We see many announcements for solar projects, some of which get built, and many of which never get built. We usually wait until they are built before we mention them, but an announcement earlier this week about an entire school district in Pennsylvania going solar caught our attention. A solar integrator Solar Energy Initiatives, Inc. (SEI) signed a letter of intent to undertake a $16 million solar project with an unnamed school district (why keep it secret?) in Pennsylvania to install and operate about 4 megawatts of photovoltaic (PV) systems for the entire school district.
SEI expects the project will commence in the fall of 2010, and expects to complete the project in the spring of 2011. SEI will provide all solar equipment for the installation on the sites and sell the newly generated solar electricity to the buildings at a discounted rate. Although the systems are not cheap, the upfront cost to school districts is nothing. In return, the school districts agree to pay a set fee for electricity.
According to a GetSolar article, the project will utilize about 17,000 individual solar panels. It is being financed by SEI under a power purchase agreement. Under this agreement, the project is expected to provide energy savings to the school district over a 20-year period.
SEI will partner with a local solar dealer for the construction and will use local labor throughout the project's development, a MarketWatch article says. Not only will SEI benefit from energy from the project ownership, but they will also profit from the sale of Solar Alternative Energy Credits (SAEC) through a State program supported by the Pennsylvania Public Utilities Commission. Electricity producers in Pennsylvania have to generate 18 percent of their renewable energy by 2021, and they can do so by purchasing SAECs from those who produce clean electricity. "It's a big spring of activity in the Commonwealth," said Chris Grohman, co-owner of Cross River Solar, in an iStockAnalyst article.
This is not the first time a school district has turned to solar energy to provide electricity. Under the pressure of saving every dollar they can, school districts around the country are entering into relationships with private companies to operate solar systems on school grounds. Many school districts in the Commonwealth have already applied for or have already received state money to help pay for PV systems. School districts believe that solar panels will help reduce energy bills, cut dependence on fossil fuels, and serve as an educational model for students.
According to the iStockAnalyst article, Michael Dykstra, senior vice president of Kenyon Energy, a renewable energy systems integrator, explained, "One of the reasons we like working with schools is it's renewable energy and they tend to publicize why it's a good thing for the planet and so forth."
It could just be the beginning. The move toward solar energy for school districts marks a significant point in the renewable energy revolution, making these school districts leaders in green building.