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Solar Energy Coming to Five District Schools

The Mehlville school board unanimously approved a solar energy lease at no out-of-pocket expense.

Five district buildings will be powered on solar energy in the fall, and students will be able to learn from monitoring the systems live in the classroom.

The school board unanimously approved a 20-year lease agreement for five solar panel systems at no out-of-pocket expenses and an estimated savings of $130,660 over the length of the lease. The vote was 6-0 with Mark Stoner absent from Thursday's meeting.

Superintendent Eric Knost started looking into solar energy more than a year ago as a return on investment project for the district.

The district put out request for proposals and four companies responded by the May 10 deadline. After analysis, Knost recommended StraightUp Solar because of its St. Louis location, the options it offered and its monitoring systems.

Knost proposed , Bernard Middle, Hagemann Elementary, the Witzel Learning Center and either Bierbaum or Beasley Elementary schools for the solar project.

The superintendent chose these schools because they encompassed all grade levels and had relatively new roofs. The schools also have high visibility to the sky.

StraightUp Solar will install a 25 kilowatt system on each school’s roof. Each building will net approximately $26,132 in savings over the 20-year lease based on a 5 percent annual utility rate increase projection.

“The key is there’s no initial investment, I mean you get payback in the first year which is usually not what you talk about when you talk about return on investment, you talk about getting it back on a 5 to 7-year period and there’s savings the first year even with these assumptions,” Chief Financial Officer Noel Knobloch said.

Knost said the panels could be installed before school starts in the fall.

The company provides installation and continued maintenance as well as a live monitoring system.

“It’s a system that allows each panel to be monitored and it also maximizes the function for each panel on its own as opposed to a string of panels,” said StraightUp Solar President Dane Glueck.

The company just finished installing solar power at Crossroads College Preparatory School and Glueck said the school and community could monitor the panels.

“It’s web-based so the school can show it off on its website. We’ll come in and give a presentation to the community and students as well as teachers and parents,” he said. “That’s one of our most favorite things to do is come in and educate the community.”

The company, formed in 2006, primarily outfits residences and nonprofit entities.

The lease comes at no added expense to the district because StraightUp Solar will receive state and federal tax credits and a rebate from Ameren.

“It’s kind of straightforward and obviously it’s very beneficial to these companies because they get the rebate, they get accelerated depreciation, they get energy incentives, so its all factored in to how they can price it so effectively for us to be able to make money on it also,” Knobloch said.

The company gave several options in its bid, one being American or Canadian-made solar panels. Although the Canadian-made panels would have saved approximately $34,813 per system, the board wanted to lease the American-made product.

“I would suggest based on our policy review on purchasing that we specifically said if we had the option to purchase American-made products that’s what we should do,” board member Ron Fedorchak said.

Glueck said the panels are made in Memphis, TN and are slightly better quality than the Canadian-made panels.

“The great thing about solar is, because it is such a long-lived system, once you make the choice to go forward with it, you get such a return on investment,” Glueck said.

D Seidel May 22, 2012 at 02:36 PM
Kudos to our Board of Ed! Great example of being responsible stewards of taxpayers $, natural resources and wonderful learning opportunity for the entire community. Special thanks to board President Venki Palamand and Superintendent Eric Knost. This is another example of innovative leadership!

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