Parkway Schools OK Rooftop Solar Panels for Electricity

The configuration would be the largest statewide.

Thirty-three buildings, including every school in the Parkway district, would be outfitted with solar panels to generate energy for electricity, after a unanimous school board vote Wednesday night on a bid.

"It's a win-win-win," Board President Beth Feldman said just prior to the vote.

The Parkway District would lease the solar energy—or photovoltaic—system from Brightergy for $72,300 a year, over 20 years.

The energy generated and converted would be 2.2 percent of the district's total annual electric use, according to Erik Lueders, the district's manager of sustainability and purchasing.

According to district information, each of the 25 kilowatt systems atop the building would have a monitoring system, and could potentially be used as an educational tool. A screen with the information could be posted in the lobby of the schools.

Parkway Superintendent Keith Marty heartily endorsed the lease agreement for solar energy.

"This is our future," Marty said, in Wednesday's board meeting. Officials said a few other schools in the area had some solar energy systems, but that Parkway's, if it went through as proposed, would be the largest in the state. 

Sustainability Manager Lueders said the anticipated solar energy output by the school district's system would save the equivalent of "CO2 emissions" or carbon footprint on the environment, of 92.7 homes.

The savings with solar energy can also be described as saving some 1.4 million gallons of gasoline—fossil fuel—that would be used to generate the electricity bought off Ameren's grid, for example.

Good news, bad news

Officials briefly considered the 20-year committment, until 2023.

The good news: The district's dollar amount in savings over the 20-year life of the contract would be greater, as the price of electricity generated by fossil fuels would likely go up, i.e. Ameren's bill. The bid anticipated a 5 percent hike per year in traditional energy costs.

The bad news: The solar energy system would generate only 2.2 percent of the district's current energy need.

There was no discussion about how, or whether, future energy needs would vary for the district as technology developed to use less energy, or more electric-sucking devices came into use.

The solar panels to be installed would simply fit into a weighted framework on top of each roof, good up to 100 mph winds, Lueders said.

Hail damage, wind damage, or other potential costs to the solar panels would be borne by insurance, he said.

Brightergy's bid said the district could save $15,010 the first year, based on a combination of factors, but ultimately would no doubt be linked to the number of sunny days.

The district savings estimated over the life of the contract was put at $1.2 million. Leasing the equipment would equal $1.4 million. With a 10 percent discount for paying up front, officials considered it a zero-sum measure.

The district sent out for six bids, but got just two back. The other company was Straight Up Solar, which would cost a few thousand dollars more in leasing equipment, and less savings in the long run, documents showed.

Webster Grove's district and Central West End schools already used solar energy, officials said.


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