Two Libertyville District 70 school buildings are now solar-powered to save electricity costs
Libertyville Elementary District 70 will take a slice out of its electric bills in the months ahead now that the largest two of its five schools are topped with solar panels.
The $3.2 million solar power project at 75,000-square-foot Butterfield School and 140,0000-square-foot Highland Middle School was recently completed, with each school hosting about 1,800 solar panels on 40,000-square-feet of the flat school-building roofs.
The panels are expected to produce about 900 kilowatts worth of power, providing about 30 percent of the electrical power needed to run each school.
The project makes District 70 the largest school district in Illinois to be run by solar-power, and it could be one of the largest solar-powered school districts in the Midwest, officials said.
The new energy source is expected to save the district $3,000 to $5,000 a month on electrical bills, or an estimated $1 million in electricity over the lifetime of the systems.
"We're all hooked up and using solar power," said Kurt Valentin, District 70's assistant superintendent of finance and operations, who guided the progressive project. "We're just waiting on new meters from ComEd."
The project was possible through a private energy grant of $1.8 million from the Illinois Clean Energy Community Foundation.
On sunny days, the schools' solar panels generate electricity on-site. Even cloudy days produce energy, according to records being tabulated at the schools. Both schools are linked to websites that show how much energy the solar panels are producing.
Highland Middle School's site is at www.solrenview.com/SolrenView/mainFr.php?siteId=3067 and shows it began recording power generated Nov. 6. The Butterfield website is at www.solrenview.com/SolrenView/mainFr.php?siteId=3068 and shows it began recording power generated Nov. 10.
The panels are expected to last 30 years, and the first 20 years are covered by a maintenance plan.
All the panels are set on a slight angle to try to catch the strongest of the sun's rays and to keep them somewhat clear of the elements. For example, when it snows, the sun will heat the panels and the slight pitch will help the snow slide off the panels.
Last summer, the United States-made panels were expected to be 40-by-65 inches in size. However, technology changes so fast in the business, the panels that arrived were smaller at 37-by-62 inches, said Dan Gilbert, District 70's supervisor of building and grounds who monitored the installation.
In awarding the grant, the Illinois Clean Energy Community Foundation noted, "The foundation is pleased to see large-scale PV projects being installed at schools, where they will generate significant savings and allow students to learn firsthand about renewable energy," said Gabriela Martin, the foundation's program officer.
There also is an educational piece to the project.
Dave Wilms, a Libertyville resident who assisted the district in applying for the private grant, is helping District 70 develop a renewable energy curriculum for students and staff that links to information on the websites.
"This is the largest educational installation (of solar power) in the state of Illinois, and I think it's one of the biggest in the Midwest," said Wilms, the former sustainability coordinator at Stevenson High School.
"Renewable energy is really important to learn about today because of the harmful impacts that carbon dioxide is having on the planet."
The photovoltaic systems to be used on both schools will help reduce the carbon footprints of District 70 by more than 50 million pounds of CO2 if the electricity came from traditional coal plants, Wilms said.
"Each school will also save more than $1 million in electricity costs over the lifetimes of the systems," he added. "Using renewable energy is the fiscally and ethically proper thing for schools to do as they help prepare students for the best possible futures by reducing both costs and carbon footprints."
Both District 70 schools were prime for solar because they have relatively new roofs and Butterfield is completely electric, including heating.
"We are committed to going green and this is another path," Superintendent Guy Schumacher said. "This is very progressive and will add additional curricular opportunities as well as overall support of our ecosystem."