GOSHEN — With future energy costs a growing concern, Goshen school board members Monday expressed tentative interest in purchasing large, ground-mounted solar panel arrays for both Model and Prairie View elementary schools at a cost of about $1.7 million.
Helping to present the solar panel proposal Monday was Nick Allen, business development manager with Performance Services, a company that specializes in guaranteed energy savings contracts.
According to Allen, Model and Prairie View were chosen as ideal locations for the new solar arrays due primarily to the fact that they both have adequate space for the installation of ground-mounted — rather than roof-mounted — systems.
“Kind of the pre-qualification for which schools we decided on was, (Facilities Director) Tom Boomershine didn’t want anything on his roofs,” Allen told the board. “So one, we wanted to look at areas where there was land available, and with solar, it’s more efficient — both from a cost perspective and a production perspective — to have ground-mount systems. So that includes Model and Prairie View elementary schools.”
As proposed, the Model Elementary School array, which would be the smaller of the two proposed arrays, would involve a system of solar panels covering approximately 1 acre of property at the school, located at 412 S. Greene Road.
Allen noted that the array would produce about 292 kilowatt hours, which would allow the school to offset 99 percent of its total electricity usage. That in turn would result in an annual energy savings of about $63,700.
Total cost of the array was quoted at about $680,000.
As for the Prairie View array, Allen said the project would involve a larger system requiring slightly more than 1 acre of property at the school, located at 1730 Regent St.
Given its larger size, Allen said the array would produce about 486 kW, again offsetting nearly 100 percent of the school’s electricity usage. That in turn would result in an annual energy savings for the school of about $102,000.
Total cost of the Prairie View array was quoted at about $1.01 million, bringing the total cost of both arrays to just under $1.7 million.
“But keep in mind, this is not firm design, firm bids yet,” Allen added of the estimated project costs, noting that all solar arrays procured through his company will also include monitoring, verification and educational components within the total project price.
In referencing the school corporation’s options for payment, Allen noted that the school board could go with either a traditional general obligation bond or what he termed an “installment payment contract,” where the school corporation would use a portion of the funding saved through the use of the solar arrays to make payments on the overall cost of the project.
“So it’s not taking on new debt, but you’re paying for the system annually with the savings that you’re generating,” Allen said of the installment plan, which he indicated would likely be the school corporation’s best option. “So in lieu of paying NIPSCO your electric bill, you’ve got savings that pay for your annual payment, and then after you’ve paid that annual payment, you still have about $40,000 left over on an annual basis. So this is a no-brainer, just because it’s cash flow positive after Year One.”
Given the typical longevity of such solar array systems, Allen added that GCS could expect to see savings upward of $1.37 million within 20 years, and as much as $4.03 million within 30 years should the arrays be maintained properly.
Should the school board decide to move ahead with the purchase of the solar arrays, Allen said his company could likely have the new arrays installed within 60 days of notice to proceed, barring any unforeseen issues.
“So obviously from the time you guys say ‘Yep, this is something we’re interested in doing’, we would want to firm design up a little more, probably review what we’ve done for NIPSCO to make sure nothing has changed, and then we would go out and get competitive bids and come back and present that information to the school board.”
Should the board pull the trigger on the plan within the next couple of weeks, Allen said design finalization and bid procurement could likely be completed by mid- to late-October, with the solar arrays fully up and running by the end of the year.
“So our intentions would be to keep this moving forward,” GCS Superintendent Diane Woodworth told the board at the conclusion of Monday's presentation, adding that she and the Performance Services team would welcome any and all questions the board’s members might have as they review the proposal in the coming weeks.
John Kline can be reached at email@example.com or 574-533-2151, ext. 315. Follow John on Twitter @jkline_TGN