SD 58 still considering solar panels after report reveals lack of economic benefit

By on February 6, 2018
Solar panel. (Stock photo)

Installing solar panels on School District 58 high schools will require more discussion amongst trustees after a report showed a poor return on investment.

“[We’ll] have a look at it by school and whether we should be looking at a larger project or just a project that would enable a science class to monitor and learn about [solar power],” school board chair Gordon Comeau told the Herald.

The installation of solar panels at Princeton and Merritt secondary schools may not be an economically viable option, but there is an educational component to consider school board trustees heard at their regular meeting last month.

SD 58 operations manager Darrell Finnigan presented a report to trustees outlining the feasibility of installing the green technology at each school, saying the panels could pay for themselves within their 25-year lifespan.

However, those numbers represent the panels operating at optimal levels and these estimated timelines would be pushed back consistently when taking into account poorer performance in the winter months and smoky skies during the summer.

There are no grants available for such a project, Finnigan told trustees.

Finnigan consulted the company Terratek — a renewable energy company that installed solar panels of the roof of the Lower Nicola Band School — to examine the possibility of placing 150 solar panels at Princeton Secondary (PSS) and 357 panels at Merritt Secondary School (MSS).

The solar panels proposed for PSS would produce about 57,750 kilowatts per year and pay for themselves in about 18 years while the MSS panels would produce 143,500 kilowatts annually, taking 14 years to pay back —  all if operating at optimum capacity.

The panels would cost about $126,000 for Princeton and $294,000 for Merritt.

Fortis BC is the power supplier in Princeton, and BC Hydro is the one for Merritt, and the amount of power each school would be allowed to put back on the grid at any one time is capped at 50 kilowatts for PSS and 100 for MSS.

“That really limits what you can do and how much [power] you can make,” Finning told the board.

The solar panels would only contribute a portion of each school’s power, with the excess being sent to the grid and coming off their electricity bills, Finnigan told the Herald.

Secretary treasurer Kevin Black told trustees the projects don’t make much sense from an economic point of view given the poor return on investment, but the educational component is priceless.

Each system would come with monitoring systems, which students could use, Finnigan told the board.

“It’s all online; anybody can log in with the code,” he said, adding that reports and spreadsheets can be produced from the system as well.

Both of the proposed systems are designed for the maximum kilowatt return back to the grid, but projects at either school could be built at any size, he said.

“Many schools do just that,” Finnigan told the board. “They throw up four, five, six panels [and] do classes around it. [The] kids get out of it what they need and they don’t have the $300,000 cost.”

Finnigan also pointed out the educational component would depend on the teacher.

“At this point in time it’s going to take further discussion to decide if we move ahead on it at all,” Comeau told the Herald.

He added that the board is trying to connect with Lower Nicola Band Chief Aaron Sam to get more information as to how the solar panels have performed so far at the band school.

“We need more of a realistic look at what it actually does put out,” Comeau said.

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