Welcome to Laurie Goodman's blog. I use this space to share news and opinions about education and schools in Ridgewood, the state of New Jersey and the nation, in addition to other issues I'm personally interested in. I invite you to share your thoughts, feelings, questions or opinions, too, by posting comments on any blog entry. Please observe basic courtesy -- keep your comments focused on issues, no personal attacks or bullying, please. Contact me directly at: lauriegood@mac.com

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Let the sun shine?

At last Monday's Board of Ed meeting, a Ridgewood resident presented a proposal for installing solar panels on several school buildings. The resident owns a solar company, Verterra. Basically, the plan would be for the company to install panels on seven schools -- those that have ideal building locations, roof conditions, etc. The schools with feasible set-ups are: Travell, Orchard, Hawes, RHS, BF Middle School, Somerville and GW Middle School. You'll notice that these are basically the schools with the most flat roof area. Other buildings are not on the list because their roofs are too sloped (Willard, Ed Center) or their roofs are older and are slated for replacement in the next 3-5 years (Ridge, Glen).

The basic proposal is that Verterra installs the panels on the roofs. Verterra owns the panels and is responsible for all installation, upkeep, repair, cleaning, etc. Verterra then sells the power generated by the panels to the school district, at a rate that is lower than we pay to PSE&G.

Why don't we just install panels ourselves and generate our own power? The cost to install solar panels is expensive. Recent estimates have shown that it would take 15 years or so for the panels to pay for themselves -- and then they could need to be replaced or at least updated, at additional cost. It's true that the government --both state and federal -- have incentive plans for solar, but those plans' benefits are in tax credits. If you're a school district -- we don't pay federal or state tax -- then the subsidies and tax credits wouldn't do us any good. Instead, a company like Verterra gets the tax credits, is able to sell us power at a more attractive rate, and still makes their own profit.

How much money could the school district save? Not that much. Approx. $25,000 to $50,000 per year. That's not nothing, but it's not a tremendous savings. You don't undertake a project like this solely for the financial savings. But there are other benefits -- doing the right thing for the planet, being good "green" citizens, modeling eco-smart behavior for our students, as well as creating learning opportunities for kids. Through a web-based "dashboard" or kiosks in the schools, Verterra is able to provide functionality that would let students monitor the panels in real-time, to see how much power is being generated, and use real data from our system to learn about energy. That's a neat benefit as well.

The proposal is being evaluated by the administration and Board. More info to come.

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