Pondering solar power

Chrisman schools consider going green; Illini FS grants $1,500 Chrisman high school


CHRISMAN – A plan for halving what Chrisman schools pay for electricity was presented to the Unit 6 board of education during the Thursday, April 12, board meeting.

Nick Finney and Josh Morgan of Novel Energy Solutions (NES) discussed a unique way to benefit from solar energy, which is part of a state initiative to eventually have 100 percent of the electricity consumed in Illinois generated by renewable sources. There is legislation in place requiring 40 percent of state’s electric generation to be from renewable sources by 2030 in order to spur development toward a renewable grid.

The representatives explained the Solar for All initiative is designed so not for profits, like school districts, can do solar by participating in the Community Solar Gardens NES has already built or has plans to build in the state. Close proximity to a Community Solar Garden is not necessary because everything is calculated by the amount of electricity the NES solar arrays are putting onto the grid.

An incentive to the school district is entering a three-year agreement and getting the electric rate automatically cut in half, resulting in an estimated savings of $12,000 for Unit 6.

“You are buying that power as green power,” said Morgan.

Interim superintend Jim Acklin asked if there is any advantage to having solar panels on school property as opposed to participating in the solar garden. The NES representative said that option can result in even more savings but it does require an expenditure by the district plus a solar array will take up space on the grounds, unless it can be built on the roof.

Another disadvantage to building an array is construction takes time before any benefits are received whereas participation in a Community Solar Garden results in an immediate rate change.

The NES representatives said the company also does commercial and residential solar installations as well as Community Solar Gardens and does not regard one approach as superior to another. It all comes down to each district’s goals and how the board wants to handle the situation.

Cutting the rate without a financial investment is a possibility, but spending money for even more savings in the long-term by owning an array of solar panels is also a good option, although it takes longer to see the financial benefit start. Finney and Morgan said a typical 10-kilowatt home solar system generally costs about $32,000.

Board member Jim Ingram claimed the payback for installing solar panels is quicker than just the savings from generating electricity. He said a friend installed panels that not only meet his needs so he buys less electricity but the individual also receives monthly payments from a Pennsylvania utility for carbon credits.

Finney and Morgan were unable to address the issue of carbon credits but did have information about the environmental positives a Community Garden Solar array provides. Such a facility is capable of producing 443,000 kilowatt hours of electricity without pollution. A coal-powered generator has to burn 343,246 pounds of coal to do the same thing all the while releasing hydrocarbons into the air and producing toxic coal ash residue as a leftover.

No action was taken but board members were intrigued by the possibilities presented to them.

In other parts of the meeting, board members were updated about the move toward one-to-one education for junior and senior high school students. This method provides each student with a personal computing device to use during the school day. Chrisman plans to supply the students with Chromebooks.

“As we move forward, we have to think about the cost,” said interim superintendent Jim Acklin. “We will need to replace 25 Chromebooks annually to establish a rotation. We continually have to cycle new computers in.”

Acklin said the estimated expense of $8,000 to purchase new Chromebooks each year is possible using the annual REAP grant. While it is not exactly a cost saving issue, one-to-one education eliminates the need to have a computer lab and keeping that equipment current.

Making the switch to one-to-one does mean a large expenditure the first year but all of that is covered without the use of local tax dollars. The district received a $103,000 grant from the Illinois State Board of Education to improve technology access in the junior high school. That grant was recently augmented with another $7,000. REAP money and private donations are covering the expense for the high school.

The district’s elementary school is not part of the one-to-one switch, but Acklin said increased public awareness regarding technology needs in the district is already showing some benefits for the grade school.

“Some local people have expressed a willingness to help with the $16,000 needed to get the elementary school set up for wireless Wi-Fi,” said Acklin.