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A year in the sun Solar powers a school

The solar array at the Homestead School in Glen Spey, NY has been online for about a year and produces enough electricity to cover the needs of the school.
Contributed photo

By Fritz Mayer
March 26, 2014

GLEN SPEY, NY — One option becoming popular for organizations that wish to move into solar power is for the organization to lease part of its land to an investment company, which will then install the solar panels and sell reduced-cost electricity to the organization.

The Homestead School, however, decided to go the direct-ownership route, which will ultimately provide greater savings for the school in the cost of electricity.

Peter Comstock, director of the Montessori school, which serves 200 children, preschool through sixth grade, said, “In a normal year, our photovoltaic (PV) system will produce 40 to 44 thousand kilowatt hours of power—all the electricity our campus needs.”

When the sun does not shine, the school draws on the credits it earned on the clear days when the system’s 140 panels feed a surplus of electricity back to the grid. “The savings on our monthly bill are huge,” said Comstock, “but just as important to us is joining the effort to prevent climate change. We’ve reduced our carbon footprint for the year by 27 tons of CO2. That’s the equivalent of keeping a medium-sized car from taking a 50,000 mile journey.”

The system cost $150,000 to produce, and that was raised from a combination of grants, investment tax credits, accelerated depreciation and fundraising. Comstock said the students and their families raised $20,000 through the sale of T-shirts, sweatshirts and water bottles with logos designed by the students. Comstock said the payback period would be less than three years.

The solar array was part of a student project, and students learn about alternative energy in their classes and also through the student environmental club, Green Power Alliance. Also, the solar array and the online monitoring system that comes with it are regularly incorporated into science lessons.

Comstock said that these days almost any individual or organization that owns property can go solar without any upfront costs or investment because of numerous companies willing to set up solar arrays in leasing arrangements. Currently, the Town of Tusten is working toward a lease agreement that will provide the town with reduced-price electricity through solar arrays installed on town property but built and maintained by private investors. Sullivan County, which already has a significant solar array at one county building, is considering moving further into solar via leasing agreements, which could save the county from 20% to 30% on electric bills.