Highland News Leader

As statewide solar-rush continues, one school district eyes possible savings

Illinois sets sight on producing 25 percent of renewable power by 2025

Proposed solar farms in the metro-east are part of a larger effort to generate more renewable energy in Illinois, as explained in this video from July, 2018.
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Proposed solar farms in the metro-east are part of a larger effort to generate more renewable energy in Illinois, as explained in this video from July, 2018.

As businesses and organizations throughout Illinois continue to prepare applications to construct solar farms and install rooftop solar panels through the state’s Adjustable Block Program, one area school district wants to get in on the action.

Triad School District in Troy is looking to add solar panels to four of its schools through the solar initiative, citing it as a smart financial decision for the district and a learning opportunity for its students.

Assistant Superintendent Jason Henderson called the possibility of adding solar panels to the four schools a win-win for the district. He said the installation of the panels would offset 90 percent of energy costs at Marine and St. Jacob elementary schools, where panels would be installed on the ground.

At Henning and Silver Creek elementary schools, panels placed on the roof would save 50 percent and 60 percent in energy savings, respectively, Henderson said.

Those cost savings, over a period of 25 years, could save the school district somewhere between $1 million and $1.6 million. Henderson said that paired with the many learning opportunities solar panels could provide Triad students makes applying an obvious choice.

“There’s really very low risk right now,” Henderson said. “Its financially a good thing and we’d be producing our own energy and giving an opportunity to learn to our students as well.”

The program is of relatively low risk to the school district, but in order to make the solar panels financially feasible, the district’s application will likely be entered into a lottery.

Luke Rheaume's home at 816 Alexander Dr., is on the 11th annual state 2017 Illinois Solar Tour from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 7.

Why solar power is gaining popularity in Illinois

Growing interest in the incentives, which were created through the Future Energy Jobs Act, has created a gold rush-like push across the state to invest in solar. Legislation enacted in 2016 created requirements and incentives for renewable energy providers that help defray the cost of installing solar panels and building solar farms.

The Future Energy Jobs Act set a goal to get 25 percent of Illinois’ electricity from renewable sources by 2025. The legislation is aimed as a way to strengthen the state’s power grid, keep down consumer costs, stimulate job growth and protect the environment.

The sheer amount of companies interested in the program throughout the state produce more applications than available permits. If that’s the case, projects will be awarded on a lottery basis.

Henderson said if the district receives money for only one of the four schools they plan to propose, they’ll go through with building on just that school. However, he said it wouldn’t make financial sense to purchase any solar panels without the incentives.

“The one problem with solar typically is that while is that while it has lots of qualities it’s expensive,” Henderson said. “This program could potentially offer an opportunity to do it where solar is not only a good thing but also affordable.”

The district is working with CTS Group, a St. Louis based energy savings company, who inspected the schools and gave that $1-1.6 million cost savings estimate. Henderson said without the incentives, installing solar at any school would be a break-even financially.

However, those savings could save taxpayers money, he said. That’s more long-haul thinking, Henderson said, calling back to the 25-year savings plan the incentives could bring on.

Triad’s school board showed support for the possibility of installing solar panels through the adjustable block program. Henderson added that, at least for the Triad School District, it wouldn’t make sense to not at least apply due to the obvious benefits.

“It been something that has always been interesting to us,” Henderson said. “But because it wasn’t financially feasible before it wasn’t something we could really consider until these rebates came into play and we said’ well, why wouldn’t we consider it?’”

Triad isn’t alone in their interest in solar savings, Belle Valley District 119 in Belleville and Clinton County School District are two nearby districts who have shown interest in applying for the rebates. However, Illinois Power Agency Director Anthony Star said its hard to tell if there’s a growing trend with school districts.

He said that will only be clear when applications begin to flood in next year.

Applications for the rebates are due by Jan. 15, 2019, and Henderson said the district expects to know if any of their schools are approved by February 2019.

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Kavahn Mansouri covers government accountability for the Belleville News-Democrat, holding officials and institutions accountable and tracking how taxpayer money is spent.
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