Shiloh finds obstacles to solar power

By SAMANTHA TUCKER samantha@prairiepress.net
Posted 2/22/21

HUME — A presentation by Joshua Barrett of SolarShift at Shiloh’s Wednesday, Feb. 17, school board meeting revealed the massive potential savings a solar array can offer the school, if …

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Shiloh finds obstacles to solar power

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HUME — A presentation by Joshua Barrett of SolarShift at Shiloh’s Wednesday, Feb. 17, school board meeting revealed the massive potential savings a solar array can offer the school, if they can overcome some obstacles.

Barrett was invited to the February meeting to discuss installing solar panels south of the softball diamond, west of the football field or some combination thereof.

One of the advantages to applying for solar now is net metering, in which energy companies like Ameren provide credit in exchange for excess kilowatts fed from the solar panels back into the grid. Ameren applies those credits when the building draws power from the grid, a far better deal than buying grid energy. This deal is only available until the collective power from these smaller arrays equals 5% of the peak demand. Ameren is now at 2%.

Barrett said contrary to popular belief, Ameren does not produce energy.

“What they do is they’re buying clean energy credits from producers,” he explained.

Barrett also outlined how a Power Purchase Agreement (PPA) could get a solar array installed for little to no cost. In this setup, tax equity partners – ideally but not always local businesses – pay for the solar system in exchange for clean energy tax credits. Unlike private ownership, the school does not truly own the array or the energy it produces, but it can purchase grid power at discount and have the option of buying the system at the 15, 20 and 30-year marks to save even more money on energy.

While examining the school’s energy bills, Barrett found an electric bill technicality that must be addressed whether the school pursues solar energy or not.

There are three components to

the rate energy companies charge, Barrett said — energy, delivery and demand. To explain demand, he used the analogy of filling a pool with garden hose versus fire hose. The end amount of water in the pool is fixed, but the size of the hose represents the demand. When demand is high enough, a building moves into higher rate categories and energy companies charge more for delivery. These categories are DS-1, DS-2, etc. DS-3 is when the higher demand rates come into play.

There are further consequences if Shiloh installs a solar array while still at DS-3. At DS-2 and below, Ameren zeroes out net metering credits once a year. At DS-3, this is done every month, putting a significant dent in how effectively net metering would save Shiloh money.

Barrett said the culprits are the electric heat pumps supplementing the school’s weak boiler, and the use of manual thermostats. The fixes to these are programmable thermostats and updating the boiler.

Board member Brian Rhode recommended an app-based thermostat system and believed fixing the boiler was within the school’s means.

“It may cost us some money, but we’ve got the 1% sales tax, so we’ve got some money,” he said.

Barrett was optimistic Shiloh could get into DS-2, noting the school is not far into the DS-3 category.

A second issue is whether Ameren will need to make upgrades to accommodate the electric load from Shiloh. Energy companies charge this to whoever is building the solar system, and it is impossible to say whether they are needed until Ameren does an interconnection study.

Barrett proposed he draft a letter of intent to submit to Ameren to get the study done without getting locked in a contract.

“[If] the deal falls apart, I just propose we split the costs incurred,” he suggested. On the low end, a study only costs $3,000-$5,000, but an intensive examination goes as high as $20,000-$30,000.

Despite the issues, solar energy offers appealing saving to the school. Shiloh’s current yearly bill is around $38,000. SolarShift projects at the DS-2 rate with net metering, the district could save 10% on the annual bill. Multiplied by 15 years, this comes out to $67,000 saved. The number grows to $163,122 if the school signs a 30-year PPA agreement. Buying out the array after 15 makes that $730,413 saved over 30 years; buying after 20 years yields $540,248 in that time frame.

The board decided to take a few days and think about Barrett’s findings and their options.

Principal Beth Harbaugh updated everyone on student progress in the Assessment in Learning and Knowledge Spaces (ALEKS) program, which enrolls 55 students from eighth grade up at Shiloh. Harbaugh said most kids are definitely improving in speed and proficiency.

“This program helps those kids who are planning to go to community college, university or a trade school,” she said.

Harbaugh also relayed the math committee is considering switching the school’s curriculum to Eureka Math.

Interim superintendent Allen Hall reported prompt customer service and a new representative at Quality Network Solutions (QNS) means he is mostly satisfied with the company, but the friction between activating the school’s new phone system and keeping their old phone number continues.

“I think at this point the biggest frustration is they haven’t installed the new phone system. It’s in, but it’s not online,” Hall said.

Activating the new system means getting a new phone number, inconveniencing parents and teachers. Hall, QNS and the school’s phone service provider have been negotiating about how to keep the number.

Huddl, a sports recording program and app, is up and running in time for the return of school sports. Shiloh purchased a two-year Huddl subscription, including leased equipment, for $8,000. Board president David Smith wants Shiloh to link with other communities over the Huddl app to get the most out of this purchase.

“There’s like a community you can join…We spent a lot of money on it so I think we should utilize it as best we can,” he said.

The board also:

-Approved the 2021-2022 school calendar.

-Approved a resolution of the Supplemental Savings Plan for the Teacher Retirement System.

-Accepted the resignation of head track coach Ryan Petty.