Solar power given go-ahead at CCS

Monday April 15, 2013

CAMBRIDGE, N.Y. -- Cambridge Central School will be going solar this year after the board approved a contract with a local solar provider.

"The gist is, we come in and install this system, own this system, maintain this system, and all the power produced by this system (is purchased by the school at 25 percent below the current market rate)," said Tyler Justin, director of field operations for Monolith Solar Associates, LLC, explaining the proposed Power Purchase Agreement.

Under current state regulations and incentives, municipalities and schools are limited to photovoltaic (PV) solar arrays sized to produce 50 kW per meter. But Justin and local Republican Assemblyman Steve McLaughlin, who attended the April 9 board meeting and works for Monolith selling to private businesses, said that per-meter limit could soon be upped by the Legislature to 100 or 200 kW in the coming weeks.

For New York to meet recent goals for solar production, McLaughlin said those limits needed to be raised.

Cambridge currently has separate meters at the central school building and district offices, and "you have great roof space for it," said Justin. With a combined 100 kW between the arrays, the district would save between $3,000 and $3,400 annually given current energy costs, over a 20-year contract.

The monetary savings is not huge "because it’s a drop in the bucket of what you’re consuming here," Justin said. He said the exciting aspect of working with school districts was incorporating the PV systems into classroom curriculum.

"The way I see it, essentially this is the way to expose your students to the Internet boom before the (boom)," Justin continued. With informational displays in common areas included with each system, "it brings this thing down to a tangible level, where we can touch and feel and understand (where the energy comes from)."

Science teacher Steve Butz, also the district’s technology coordinator, said the bigger concerns were producing energy locally from a renewable source and the educational benefits for students."It’s not always about money."

Butz said the long-term vision of the school’s Energy, Conservation, and Sustainability Committee was to produce both heat and electricity through renewable sources.

Justin said a new incentive from Monolith would also donate $250 to the school’s STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) program for each future residential installation within the district. "I need better, well-trained employees," Justin said, qualifying the donation as an early investment in tomorrow’s workforce.

The arrays are flat-roof ballasted meaning there’s no penetration of the roof. If the 50 kW ceiling is raised, CCS will have the option of expanding the size of the solar installation, which is expected to be installed by this fall after state Education Department approval.

Schodack Central, Stillwater Central, Woodland Hill Montessori, Doane Stuart, and Academy of Holy Names are some of the schools that have completed solar installations through PPAs with the Rensselaer company according to Max Gradinger of Monolith.

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