Southeast Schools researching Cedar Crest solar power array

Blesch Bros in Holland is the first company in the area to add enough solar panels to become net zero on their electrical usage.
File photo

Southeast Dubois School Corporation is exploring the installation of a solar array at Cedar Crest Intermediate School.

The school corporation began exploring the idea of installing solar panels after the recent Indiana School Board Association conference. According to Southeast School Corporation Superintendent Rick Allen, several Indiana school corporations that have installed solar arrays reported on their success. A video at the end of this story explains North Putnam County’s move to solar.

Cedar Crest, located along State Road 162, was chosen because it has about 74 acres land available around it. A section on the northeast quadrant of the property has a 12 percent grade that was created when dirt was moved to build the school.

“We can’t build anything there,” Allen said. “It is ideal for this.”

The school board held a special meeting Wednesday to receive some early estimates on cost benefits to install the field. The goal is to zero out the electrical consumption at Cedar Crest.

Brian Walters with the Emcor Group and Andy Cooper with PSG Energy Group presented their findings so far. Two options were given, one being an outright purchase by the corporation; the other a lease through the installation company.

Numbers are still coming together for the lease option, but early estimates still have the lease payment coming in less than the school’s current electrical bill.

However, owning the field seems to be the more prudent path if the project moves forward. Installing the 1,453 panels needed to zero out the electric bill is estimated to cost about $1,298,396.

“It’s remarkable what this can do,” Allen said.

According to Allen, the current electrical bill for Cedar Crest is a bit over $71,000 annually. Wednesday’s presentation estimated he first year the solar panel array was in operation, the corporation would save about $5,000. The next year, that could increase to over $11,000.

The benefit over the long run is what makes it so enticing. In regards to school budgets, utilities are paid from the school’s general fund. The fund most impacted by the state’s school funding equation that is largely based on student enrollment.

The bond on the solar field would be paid from a separate fund.

Also in the consideration is the certainty that electrical rates will continue to rise. Allen pointed the information was timely as he had just received notification of a 2.5 percent rate increase from Dubois for 2017. “We haven’t seen our rates increase like this every year though,” Allen added.

According to PSG Energy, they estimated the school would pay $3.5 million over the next 25 years without any changes. The number takes into account an average annualized increase of 3 to 5 percent over the 25 years.

With solar and other energy-saving moves, the corporation would pay about $2 million over the same time period.

“If I save 30 percent, if I save 40 percent, it’s a win-win,” Allen said.

He added that with the fixed costs associated with the array, the corporation can better plan for their energy costs. “I don’t know what electricity rates are going to do, but my bill will be locked in for 25 years,” Allen said. “You can budget for it. Plus, it is affordable.”

If the school moved forward on installing solar through PSG Energy, the company would also convert all the lighting to LED. “Conservatively, they estimate the LED lighting can cut costs up to 15 percent,” Allen said. “Northeast (Dubois) has already converted and they are seeing a lot of savings already.”
PSG Energy Group will complete a thorough energy consumption and cost analysis to present to the school board in the near future.
Other solar power installations in the area include a 2 megawatt array on Phoenix Drive in Huntingburg installed by the Indiana Municipal Power Agency. A 1 megawatt array along Interstate 64 near the Dale interchange installed by Hoosier Energy and Dubois REC.

Blesch Brothers in Holland installed a large array to offset their energy usage earlier this year.

Jim O’Neal of WITZ AM/FM contributed to this report

3 Comments

  1. I honestly don’t know what to think at all, because it says “If I save 30%, if I save 40%, it is a win-win.” This is my opinion here, what is the solar energy saving? What if it is cloudy and there is no sun? What will happen then?

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