MT. ORAB — On his last day on the job as Western Brown’s director of operations and transportation, Roger Taylor can breathe easily as ground finally broke on the solar energy project for the Western Brown School District.
The project has not been easy. It got underway four years ago with another company before the current provider, Solar Planet. That snag in the process delayed the start of their project, while another county school, Fayetteville-Perry, got theirs off the ground.
“We’ve been working on this process for so long, we actually started before Fayetteville (Fayetteville-Perry Schools), and because they got with Solar Planet first, they got done quicker. But we’ve been looking at this since 2011,” Taylor said.
The project did not start with the intent to completely overhaul Western Brown’s energy solutions. The project started small and grew into the major project it has become.
“We actually started with a behavioral energy program to cut our energy use in the schools with light plans, HVAC efficiency and then we thought, ‘What can we do outside the norm to try to save energy?’” Taylor said.
He said the solar renewable credit market in Ohio made it advantageous for Solar Planet to undertake the project. The project cost Western Brown nothing to install and they have a 25-year purchase agreement with Solar Planet to buy their energy at half the current rate per kilowatt hour. Solar Planet is installing the project at no cost to Western Brown.
“This will save the district money over the next 25 years,” Taylor said. “It will probably outlast everyone in the district office. It’s going to be here for a long time.”
According to Taylor, Western Brown was spending upwards of $50,000 per month on electricity between the buildings. Western Brown’s savings comes in the form of the purchase agreement. With their current energy provider, they are paying an average of 14 cents per kilowatt hour. With Solar Planet, Western Brown will be spending 7.5 cents per kilowatt hour.
Spencer Lee, Solar Planet’s general manager, said it was the largest project at any school Solar Planet had undertaken. The system is set to supply up to 70 percent of the school’s energy at all three schools. The project includes four separate systems that are all grid-fed.
According to Lee, battery-fed systems are not practical for a project this size, but the technology is improving for battery systems that could lead to complete energy independence.
Taylor said the projects serves a two-fold purpose. Not only does it save the district money and free up money to be spent elsewhere in the school, but it allows students to get hands-on experience with solar energy.
“It’s one of those things where they only learn about solar panels in textbooks,” Taylor said. “It’s something they can actually physically see and touch.”
The project is set to be complete by October and be functional, with weather permitting, on the installation of the solar panels and system.