Solar Energy Attracting More Schools

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Solar Panels on the rooftop of Evening Street Elementary in Worthington(Photo: Debbie Holmes)
Solar Panels on the rooftop of Evening Street Elementary in Worthington(Photo: Debbie Holmes)

More and more Central Ohio Schools are looking to the sun to power lights, computers and air conditioning. At least two local companies are putting solar panels on school buildings, lowering utility bills.

That’s the sound of solar energy converting into electricity at Evening Street Elementary school in Worthington. Nearly 300 solar panels lie side by side on the rooftop. School Principal Mary Rykowski estimates the panels save about 25 percent on the school’s electricity bills.

“And it’s just really the children are very responsible and they take a lot of pride in our solar panels. Our families like to look on the web site to see how much energy we’ve generated,” says Rykowski.

An electronic information board in the school’s front hallway monitors energy creation.

“We’ve generated 149,767.2 kilowatts of power since we put them in,” says Rykowski.

Rykowski explains that’s enough power to operate 1,152 computers since the panels were installed last spring.

The district did not have to pay any upfront costs. With the help of government grants the Westerville company Solar Vision installed and will maintain the solar panels at no charge. It charges the school for power generated by the panels, but the district gets a discount. Director of Facility Management at Worthington Schools, Tim Gehring says the district has saved about $4,000 so far. Gehring says there are 2 goals for using solar power.

“One is to save our district energy costs and to promote because we are a governmental agency, promote environmental stewardship for our community, our students in our school district,” says Gehring.

In Gahanna,school district leaders are considering a plan to put solar panels on every school building. A company called Solar Planet has stepped up to purchase and install solar panels. After they are installed, Solar Planet would charge the school for the power. Gahanna’s Business Director Scott Schmidt.

“Our numbers show that we could save anywhere from 10 to 20 percent on our electric bill, and could save more than 20 percent, if the cost of electricity continues to climb,” says Schmidt.

Schmidt estimates the solar panels could save the district up to $200,000 a year. He says in later years, up to 75% of the district’s power could come from the sun.

Dave Dwyer with Solar Planet says the company plans to work with more schools.

“What finally made us believe that this was the right thing to do was the fact that the budgets for the schools were being cut so dramatically that any kind of savings would be extremely beneficial at this point,” explains Dwyer.

It will cost the company about $20 million to install the panels on 14 Gahanna school buildings. It expects to make a profit in 10 years.

Around Central Ohio, Dublin and Westerville schools use some solar panels on a few buildings. Whitehall and Southwestern city schools do not have solar panels. Hilliard and Columbus city schools are planning to use solar energy in the future. Final approval for solar energy use at Gahanna Schools could come next month.

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