Rocky Fork Enterprise

Solar panels approved for school roofs

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The Gahanna-Jefferson Public School District wants to let the sun shine in as a way to save energy costs through the use of solar panels.

The Gahanna Planning Commission approved conditional-use requests by Settle-Muter Electric on Oct. 10 to allow the installation of solar panels on the roofs at Lincoln High School and Gahanna Middle School West.

Gahanna deputy development director Leah Evans told the commission the panels would be used to generate electricity, thus reducing greenhouse gases and decreasing electricity costs.

"It won't be visible from the ground, for the most part," she said.

Gahanna-Jefferson business-affairs director Scott Schmidt told ThisWeek the district expects to purchase 70 percent of its electricity needs from the solar arrays, at a savings of 30 percent off current rates. He estimates that the district would save $75,000 next year with solar panels at Blacklick Elementary School, Lincoln High School and Middle School West.

When Chapelfield and Goshen Lane elementaries come on line, Schmidt said, he estimates the saving with solar at the five schools could be $87,000 beginning in 2014.

"These are very conservative numbers and do not take into account rising AEP utility rates," he said. "Of course, we would hope to save more."

Schmidt said the purpose of the solar energy project is to reduce the burden on taxpayers and lower utility costs, including the district's electric bill that average $1 million annually.

He said the solar energy project is being implemented at no expense to the district.

Schmidt said Solar Planet is purchasing, installing, insuring and maintaining the solar energy system.

Jerry Corbin, Solar Planet's business development coordinator, said the business would receive Renewable Energy credits from the federal government.

Schmidt said the district would purchase power generated by the solar panels at 30 percent less than the current AEP utility rate that's 10 cents per kilowatt-hour.

The energy pricing through a power-purchase agreement with Solar Planet will be 7 cents per kilowatt-hour, with an annual increase not to exceed 4 percent.

Schmidt said the first part of the project is nearly finished at Blacklick Elementary School, where a ground array of solar panels was installed. He said ground arrays aren't in Gahanna neighborhoods.

Schmidt said the goal is to have electricity flowing from solar panels at Lincoln High School's Building A (Hamilton Hall) and Middle School West by the end of December.

Middle School South, Middle School East, High Point, Jefferson, Royal Manor and Lincoln elementary schools and the bus compound all have limited roof possibilities, and additional feasibility studies and planning would have to be developed for those locations, Schmidt said.

He said the roof panels at the high school and Middle School West would be 12 to 15 inches off the roof elevation.

"The panels would be on the southern part of ... Hamilton Hall," he said.

Commission member Don Shepherd asked if the panels could be seen from the street at any of the schools.

"At any reasonable distance, you couldn't see the panels," Schmidt said. "It won't change the contour of the building. They won't be highly visible."

Shepherd also asked who warranties the panels.

Corbin said the manufacturer of the panels holds the warranty.

"We have boxes (of panels) from all over the world," he said.

He said they're purchased from companies that would back their products.

Commission member Thomas Wester said he supports solar power and sustainability.

"I prefer roof-mounted, out of sight, out of mind," he said.

Commission chair Jennifer Price said she's excited that the school district is being innovative with green solutions.

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