solar panels

HCPS is working with the Harrisonburg Electric Commission to secure a grant.

Harrisonburg City Public Schools is taking steps toward installing solar panels at Bluestone Elementary as an alternative to fossil fuels. To secure funding, HCPS is attempting to work with the Harrisonburg Electric Commission to secure a grant.

“It’s a good way to demonstrate to those students at a young age the importance of renewable energy,” Brian O’Dell, the HEC general manager, said. “Anything generated renewably offsets anything that would be generated that’s carbon-based.”

Andy Kohen, vice chair of the Harrisonburg City School Board, said that the installation and panel costs would be funded through the grant. The school system would own and maintain the panels with either the grant money or school funding.

“It’s my personal hope that once this is arrived at ... a final agreement, it will be the first [of] many steps,” Kohen said. “It’s in the interest of the schools, the city of Harrisonburg and probably the planet to use as much non-fossil fuel energy as possible.”

An agreement contract has yet to be reached between HCPS and HEC. A motion was made and approved unanimously for the leadership of the school system to go forward with the conversation about this project in October by the school board. The timing and funding for the project are still to be determined. 

Augusta County Public Schools has a 20-year contract with Secure Futures, a solar developer based in Staunton. They placed the solar panels on-site with no upfront capital cost. 

Eric Curren, chief marketing officer at Secure Futures, said very few public school systems previously used solar panels because they couldn’t obtain the tax credit that many private companies and homeowners use. Secure Futures uses the tax credit as long as the schools use the solar panels.

Secure Futures, a for-profit company, owns and places the solar panels on the roofs of their schools. They operate differently than the HEC. Secure Futures operates the panels for 20 years and sell the schools the electricity. The school only pays the monthly electricity bill.

Curren said he expects solar panels to be more widespread in the future. The price of solar energy has decreased by 85% in the last 10 years and has the potential to be cheaper than coal or natural gas, Curran said.

Greg Troxell, the director of maintenance and operations for ACPS, was tasked to find out more information about putting solar panels into their school system last year. He looked into Albemarle County Public Schools, which had done work involving solar energy.

Secure Futures projected that ACPS could save $20,000 to $25,000 a year with the current solar energy project. It’s currently a year into the operation, so exact numbers aren’t available yet. 

The electric bill for the 18 buildings of ACPS is $2 million. About 20-30% of the energy in its county is produced by solar energy.

It’s not just an economic investment for ACPS. Teachers are trained in teaching students about solar energy, which is SOL compliant. On the students’ Chromebooks, there’s a solar monitor that students can see each day.

“For us, it’s the big three,” Troxell said. “Saving money, being good stewards of the environment and the education component — it’s a win-win for everybody.”

Contact Matthew Sasser at sasserma@dukes.jmu.edu. For more coverage of JMU and Harrisonburg news, follow the news desk on Twitter @BreezeNewsJMU.

Matthew Sasser is a sophomore writing, rhetoric, and technical communication major. Beyond writing, he enjoys skateboarding, playing bass guitar, ultimate frisbee and is an avid Taco Bell enthusiast.