Southern board not warming to solar panels

SALINEVILLE –Representatives from Regor Energy and Verde Solutions presented an alternative energy plan to the Southern Local Board of Education on Monday.

The group led by Jon Ney of Regor Energy and Chris Yurko of Verde Solutions suggested the school district could produce enough solar energy by installing solar panels on the western edge of their property, not only to cover the costs of installing the panels, but also to offset some of their electric costs.

While the company has completed many other projects in 42 states, including 28 school-related projects, Southern Local would be their first in Ohio.

Some members of the board were somewhat skeptical about the idea, especially Jay Cole, who questioned the math surrounding the project and noted what the district really needs is a back up energy source for the many power outages, which cost school days each year. Yurko said he would be happy to look at alternatives such as a back up generator or a battery system where the solar power could be stored, but added that could be more expensive.

Jane Deloof of Verde Solutions went over the projected amount of energy which could be gained by the solar panels, even in a climate such as Ohio. The preliminary estimates on the project, which are based on a year of past electric bills for the district, show it would help the district reduce its energy use by 53 percent, which would save the district about $179,700 off their electric bills. The solar equipment would be purchased through a lease purchasing agreement, which would cost about $154,000 annually for 20 years. That would mean a savings of $25,000 the first year and assuming the cost of electricity would continue to rise, the savings would continue to increase. Ideally, the project would save the district money and insulate them from changes and increases in energy costs down the road.

While the lease purchase agreement would be 20 years long at 4 percent interest, the solar panels have a 25-year warranty and an expected lifespan of 35 to 40 years.

However, after looking closer at the numbers being used, it was determined they were based on electric bills the district received mostly prior to newly introduced cost savings measures the school has undertaken with the H.E.A.T. Total Facility Solutions Inc. to reduce its bills.

Yurko said he would wait to get some additional numbers to make sure the project would still make sense for the school district. However, he also noted the project would include a guarantee about how much solar energy it would produce. Yurko noted if there is a year where the solar panels produce less than what they tell them it will, the company will make up the difference.

Cole also questioned whether there would be problems with safety for students and vandalism having the panels located on the ground. Yurko assured the board the projects are safe to be around and would include fencing, stone or grass around the panels to make the area look good. The panels are reportedly strong enough to withstand a hailstorm.