Augusta County Public Schools going solar

augusta countyAugusta County Public Schools has signed an agreement with Secure Futures Solar of Staunton to install solar panels on seven school campuses across the county. The schools’ solar energy system will have a capacity of 1.8 megawatts of power, enough to power 279 average U.S. homes, making it the largest solar power installation at any institution of education in the Shenandoah Valley.

During the fall of 2018, a total of 5,266 American-made photovoltaic panels manufactured by SolarWorld at its factory in Oregon will be installed on rooftops located at Wilson Middle School, Wilson Elementary School, Riverheads High School, Riverheads Elementary School, Cassell Elementary, and Fort Defiance High School. A ground-mounted array will be installed at Clymore Elementary School.

“The good reputation of Augusta County Public Schools has helped draw parents with children to our area for years,” said Dr. Eric W. Bond, division superintendent of Augusta County Public Schools. “Solar panels should generate even more positive attention in the future, as tangible evidence that our schools are both sustainable and forward-thinking.”

The solar panels will be owned by Secure Futures and installed at no upfront capital cost to Augusta County Public Schools. Under a power purchase agreement (PPA), for a period of 20 years the company will continue to operate the solar arrays on each campus, selling 100% of the solar power produced to the school division at a rate below the cost of energy from local electric utilities. The solar panels will provide 31% of the seven schools’ electricity every year on average, saving a projected $495,000 over the two-decade length of the agreement. Once the 20-year term is completed, the schools will have the option to purchase the panels at their market value at that time. The solar panels are expected to continue to produce electricity at a high level for an additional 20 years.

“While raising the profile of Augusta County Schools and saving the school division money on electricity that can be applied to teacher salaries and other instructional needs, on-site clean energy will shrink the schools’ environmental footprint and serve as a valuable teaching tool,” said Anthony Smith, PhD, the chief executive officer of Secure Futures.

The seven solar arrays will offset 2,053 tons of carbon dioxide in their first year of operation, the equivalent of 48,279 tree seedings grown for 10 years, according to data from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

A grant to the school division from Secure Futures for $50,000 will cover two years of training and materials for both teachers and students from the non-profit National Energy Education Development Project (NEED), helping to integrate the solar panels into school curricula.

The plan to go solar at Augusta County Public Schools originated from an idea put forth by students. In spring of 2017, Fort Defiance students Elias Nafziger and Lizzie Hepler, copresidents of the school’s Student Council Association, approached Principal Larry Landes with a proposal to have solar panels installed on campus. After discussions with Superintendent Bond, the school division decided to expand the scope of the plan and began to seek a way to install solar panels at multiple schools.

“The School Board is extremely proud of Ms. Hepler and Mr. Nafziger for their leadership and innovative idea regarding this project,” said Superintendent Bond. “With their desire to see solar power at Fort Defiance High School, we were able to work with Secure Futures and expand this concept to seven of our schools, with the hope of future expansions. Ms. Hepler and Mr. Nafziger are perfect examples of student leaders thinking critically and creatively as well communicating their ideas effectively while showing community and civic responsibility.”

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