Fairfield Ledger
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Neighbors Growing Together | Dec 19, 2014

School board learns about solar energy

By DIANE VANCE | May 23, 2014

The second solar energy company in two months presented information to the Fairfield school board Monday.

Troy Van Beek, president of Ideal Energy in Fairfield, and Robert Gongwer gave a PowerPoint presentation about options to equip Fairfield Middle School with solar power.

Van Beek said 500 kilowatts could provide 76 percent of the FMS building’s energy needs. He said 450 kilowatt-producing solar panels could fit on the school’s roof, while 50 more could be ground mounted.

“You actually have quite a bit of roof space,” he said. “And 500 kilowatts is the limit Alliant Energy allows for metering.”

Gongwer said the representations being shown were not a final design.

“We could do many options and are flexible,” said Gongwer.

The price to install panels to generate 500 kilowatts would be $1.2 million.

“Payback would be 14 years,” said Van Beek. “And that price and payback is before figuring tax credits and incentives.”

Solar panels are designed with a 40-year life cycle and have no moving parts to wear out or break, he said.

FMS could save $71,000 in energy costs annually by using solar energy, Van Beek said.

On sunny days, weekends and days of no school, the system would produce more energy than the building would use, and net metering, or storing the energy on the grid is automatic, he said.

“Solar arrays we use are made to withstand wind and snow loads in this region,” Van Beek said. “We wouldn’t attach the panels directly to the roof, nothing would penetrate the roofing material. The panels are held in place with ballast. The roof needs to be able to support five pounds per square foot and it’s rare to run into a school building that cannot sustain that load.

“Yes, you’ll have snow days when the panels are covered, but the snow melts in a day or two, and that time factor is built into the energy estimates,” he said.

Ideal Energy uses panels manufactured in China; 90 percent of solar panels are made in China Van Beek said.

“We could purchase panels made in America, but they are slightly more expensive,” he said. “We only use Tier I products.

Gongwer said Ideal Energy only deals with companies that are bankable.

The environmental impact of switching to solar energy at the middle school, would be the equivalent of planting 11,668 trees annually; or replacing 115.5 cars with hybrid cars annually; or 2,541 cars taken off the road over lifetime; or 69.3 tanker trucks of gasoline not used over lifetime; or 184.8 rail cars of coal not used over lifetime, according to Ideal Energy’s data.

Fairfield school district auxiliary services director Fred McElwee said the district is exploring and looking at its options for solar energy and cost estimates.

“I am not sure if it we could say we’re interested in this in the near future due to the high school project commitments, but we want to have it on our radar,” he said.

 

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