After deciding in in August to proceed with plans to install a solar field on district land near Bear Creek School, the Elizabethtown school board voted to amend its energy savings agreement with McClure Co. to include the solar project.
McClure will install the 500-kilowatt field at a cost of about $870,000. The project is supposed to save the Elizabethtown Area School District more than $2 million over 20 years by reducing the peak electricity loads upon which the district’s electric rates are based.
Before the board voted at its meeting on Tuesday, Sept. 19, Elizabethtown resident Russell L. Bomgardner expressed concerns, saying that people he talked to are not in favor of the solar field.
“The McClure company stands to win here, the community stands to lose and the E-Town Area school board is responsible,” he said.
Bomgardner said solar power is a “great thing,” but he questioned whether school districts should pursue solar as an alternative energy. “Not unless they have the capital and the community behind it, neither of which is true here,” he said.
He said the proposed site is open tillable land not costing anything in maintenance. He also questioned the site’s desirability in terms of slope and rainwater runoff, citing various figures. At that point, board member M. Caroline Lalvani, running the meeting in the absence of board President Terry Seiders, asked him to submit that information for review. (Robert Cronin was also absent.)
Bomgardner added that installing energy-efficient LED lighting would be more cost effective, and he questioned whether solar panels would produce much in the morning when electrical systems are activated and in the evening when school activities take place.
Bomgardner also calculated that using the solar project money to pay down the district’s debt, which he said is $57 million, would save $2.6 million in interest over 20 years. “Paying our debt that we have is way more beneficial to us, our kids and our grandkids,” Bomgardner said.
Board member Craig Hummer said the board has talked about the project over the past few months and that savings are guaranteed. He reiterated that replacing energy is not the intent, but rather demand management. “The idea is the solar replaces our peak use that gives us the biggest chunk of those savings over a period of time,” he said.
Hummer added that energy savings are being looked at “across the board” as part of an energy savings company agreement.
In a later comment period, Bomgardner asked if more information on the solar project could be provided for the community. Superintendent Michele Balliet said that the contracts and documents are available on the district website.
Bomgardner agreed that the information is public, “but you have to look for it,” and people are busy and don’t sit at a computer and study those documents. “Somehow it has to be more open,” he said.
In other business, the board approved Suite 360, a web-based tool that can be used on mobile devices by students and parents to aid in character development and social and emotional learning. Richard Schwarzman, assistant to the superintendent, said funding is coming from federal monies as well as from the Elizabethtown Rotary Club and Elizabethtown Area Communities That Care.
The board also approved a food service survey for students and staff for the district’s new food service vendor, Southwest Foodservice Excellence.