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WVCSD Solar Power Project

Solar Power Project approved by Board of Education; work to begin summer 2017

Solar power will reduce energy costs by an approximate average of $244,000 per year over 18 years

In July 2015, after nearly a year of research, discussions and meetings, the Warwick Valley Central School District Board of Education approved initial plans to study the building of a solar field on approximately 10 acres of excess property on the campus of Sanfordville Elementary School. Now, after more than a year of study, review and applications, at the November 2016 meeting of the Board, board members voted to approve the project.

The 2.419-megawatt solar power project will generate energy from the sun and feed it into the local power grid. Through net metering credits for the energy from Orange and Rockland and state aid, the school district will save an approximate average of $244,000 a year over 18 years in energy costs, with a total savings of approximately $4.3 million.

“Our goal from the start was the elimination of an electric bill altogether for the district, while becoming a greener community.” said Superintendent Dr. David Leach. “This will allow us to put more taxpayer money into the actual education of our students, and less into overhead costs. We’re also excited about setting an example for green technology and the educational opportunity for students to learn about renewable energy.”

Why now is the right time for solar

Solar power has become much less expensive than it once was, and a recent change in New York state law has made it more attractive for schools. Previously, a district could only offset the power usage of the facility where the system was located. But that has changed to allow a system at a single location to offset total usage for all facilities owned by the district, making it much more cost-effective.

After comparing the savings benefits of a Power Purchasing Agreement (PPA) vs. an Energy Performance Contract (EPC,) the school board facilities committee recommended entering into an EPC with Con Ed Solutions, who will install the solar panels and oversee the project. Some of the reasons for selecting an EPC rather than a PPA are that with an EPC, the system is not limited to a specific size, the payback term is just eight years, the construction is eligible for New York state building aid and the cost per kilowatt-hour is negotiated as part of the contract.

With an Energy Performance Contractor EPC agreement—in place, the district will own the solar panels and have an 18-year maintenance agreement with Con Ed Solutions to cover anything that may go wrong with the system. Con Ed Solutions will also maintain the land around the unit, providing mowing and weeding as necessary.

Location, cost and return on investment

The solar panels will be located on approximately 10 acres of land on the Sanfordville Elementary School campus. (The school sits on 120 acres total, 40 of which are currently used.) It will not displace any playground or athletic areas. The cross country track will be maintained around the solar field.

The total cost of the project is roughly $5.7 million, which the district will borrow through bonds. Since this project is an EPC, the project is required to pay for itself, and there will be no impact on Warwick taxpayers. The simple payback period is 12.92 years.

Moreover, the cost of electricity itself will be much less expensive with solar power. The district currently spends about 13-15 cents per kilowatt-hour for electricity. The negotiated rate once the solar power system is operational will be 3-4 cents per kilowatt-hour, saving the district about 10 cents per kilowatt-hour. New York state building aid and further incentives from NYSERDA (New York State Energy Research and Development Authority) are built in to the project.

Crews are expected to begin work in the summer of 2017, with construction taking about four months to complete. When the project is done, the solar plant is projected to provide the majority of the district’s electric needs.

Curriculum benefits, safety

Alternative and renewable energy, and solar in particular, will become part of the curriculum for Warwick students. Through special software, students can take daily measurements from the solar field and compute its power output. “I think it will be a very meaningful, hands-on way for students to talk about green energy within their science classes, and then say ‘Let’s go look at it,” said Dr. Leach.

For the safety of students and to protect the solar panels, the project includes security cameras and the installation of fencing and trees around the panels.

“This solar project will not only provide a return on energy for the school district, but it will also reduce our carbon footprint,” said Assistant Superintendent for Business Timothy Holmes. “It’s a win-win for the Warwick community.”

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