Licking County News

Southwest Licking

District's solar power plans on hold for now


Southwest Licking school board members say they are willing to explore the use of solar power to lower energy bills, but it probably won't happen any time soon.

Tipping Point Renewable Energy CEO Eric Zimmer's new option for creating a solar power-generating system for the district was not well received during the July 25 school board meeting.

The board initially voted to create a solar power system in March 2012; however, an investor in the project pulled out and the project stalled.

Zimmer told board members a new investor is interested in moving the project forward, but the preferred means would be for the district to finance the solar array.

"The positive is, you own it," Zimmer said.

He said the district also could make money on the array in the future, depending on the cost of conventional energy.

A problem with having an investor finance the project, he said, is similar to leasing a vehicle, in that at the end of 20 years, the district would need to consider purchasing the system.

In order for the district to finance solar power itself, it would need to place a bond issue on the ballot.

"The word 'bond' scares me," board member Don Huber said.

Huber said he couldn't support asking voters for more millage when the district is already asking voters to help finance a $96-million project to construct two new buildings and renovate several others.

Board members have finalized a bond issue on the November ballot for the $96 million project.

Huber said voters can expect to see a 6.04-mill levy, though there is a chance the millage could decrease slightly.

Zimmer said solar power still looks "promising" when considering future costs of conventional energy.

Superintendent Robert Jennell said the district is trying to develop a strategic plan.

"I think the district needs to find an inexpensive way to heat and cool its buildings; I'm not against that at all," Jennell said.

But district officials are asking voters to consider many things right now, he said, including all-day kindergarten and busing options.

"There's only so much you can ask for from the voters," he said.

Huber said some districts are able to finance items such as a solar array with existing revenue, but Southwest Licking has nothing extra to allocate.

"We are tapped out," Huber said.

Board members agreed now is not the time to ask for another bond issue, but augmenting the district's energy with solar power is a viable option if there's another way to do it.

Zimmer said he would keep looking for investors to take on the financial burden of constructing a solar array for the district.