Schools switch to solar to save money

Posted at: 09/04/2013 4:47 PM
Updated at: 09/04/2013 5:02 PM
By: Elaine Houston

With school beginning, families are trying to purchase school supplies and clothing while living within their own budgets. They're also asking school districts to be more transparent about their budgets.

Schools are listening.

Walk into Maple Hill High School in Castleton and you can't help but notice the big flat screen on the wall in the entrance. But you won't be able to flip the channels and find your favorite program -- instead you'll get a lesson in solar energy.

Hourly students can monitor just how much electricity the district is producing and they can see how they're saving the planet.

Plus, the district is making solar energy part of its curriculum across the board.

Even the kindergarteners are learning about solar energy.

It all started last summer when the district decided to give solar energy a try.

“Schools were really being looked at to be more efficient, efficient, efficient,” explained Maple Hill High School Principal Bob Horan.

So they signed a 20-year agreement with Monolith Solar. They install and maintain the system free of charge, while the district cuts its energy costs.

“We don't own any of the equipment. A panel breaks, it's no cost to the district,” Horan said.

State and federal incentives offset the panel instillations and Monolith charges the district for power at a reduced rate.

“We saved somewhere between 12 to 15,000 dollars in year one without having all our systems running,” the principal said.

Other districts, like Brunswick, have taken to their roofs too. Last week crews laid footers for the solar panels, which will soon line the tops of their buildings.

“Not only is it cost friendly, it makes perfect sense,” Brunswick School Superintendent Dr. Angelina Bergin said. “We’re utilizing unused space to produce our own energy.”

Alex Lieb, CEO of New York Light Energy, is working with the Brunswick district and says school partnerships are a win for everyone.

“Partnering with the school districts on these projects has allowed us to meet the student’s objectives, to meet the school district's objectives of saving money and locally hire people and get them off the unemployment roles,” Lieb said.


These two districts are not the only ones giving solar a try. Others are looking into it as well.

Shenedehowa's High School East is using solar panels and a lobby display similar to the one at Maple Hill in Castelton. The information from that display can also be viewed online. They estimate the district is saving $10,000 a year.

The Cohoes School District received two grants for solar panels at the middle and high schools. They say they've saved $23,026 in the two years since the installation.

South Colonie is considering making the solar switch. If their proposal is approved, they say it could be the largest school solar installation in the state.