District 158 to begin solar installations at its three campuses this month
Huntley Community School District 158 broke ground this week on a project to install three of the largest solar panel arrays at any Illinois public school.
The district, in partnership with California-based ForeFront Power, will begin installing the panels with 5.6 megawatts of photovoltaic capacity across its campuses in Algonquin, Huntley and Lake in the Hills this month. The roof- and ground-mounted installations are expected to save the district $4.2 million over 20 years, officials said.
Roughly 20 acres will be devoted to the solar arrays, expected to produce 7.5 million kilowatt-hours of electricity during the first year of operation, offsetting nearly 12.3 million pounds of carbon emissions, according to the EPA Greenhouse Gas Equivalencies Calculator.
The project is expected to be completed and operational by spring.
"We expect to be fully functional sometime this school year," District 158 Superintendent Scott Rowe said. "We will be the largest solar array system in the state of Illinois at a school district. Not only is it the right thing to do for the environment, but it's also the right thing to do fiscally to be conscientious of our tax dollars. We are diverting dollars into learning and away from burning energy."
Nationwide, K-12 schools and higher education institutions spend a combined $14 billion on utilities annually, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.
District 158 pays roughly 11 cents per kilowatt-hour for electricity, and its yearly energy cost is over $1 million. Drawing power from the installations, officials expect about 50% in savings on energy costs.
"About 80% of our energy uses will be produced from the solar on our campuses," Rowe said.
ForeFront Power has partnered with more than 80 school districts, colleges and universities nationwide, and it is working on a solar installation for Mooseheart Child City and School in Mooseheart -- its only other Illinois project.
District 158 won't pay any upfront costs for solar grid installation. ForeFront will design, permit, finance, install and maintain the infrastructure for 20 years at an estimated $8 million cost. The company is eligible to receive federal tax credits for the project and Illinois' Solar Renewable Energy Credits, which allows it to offer electricity at lower rates to schools.
Solar energy absorbed by the arrays will be relayed to ComEd's power grid. The district then will buy back electricity generated by the system from ComEd at a lower price than its existing rate, Rowe said.
Moving toward solar energy is a natural progression of the district's sustainability efforts. District 158 has been investing in energy-efficient projects, including lighting retrofits and green designs for Huntley High School's recent addition and renovation. Seven district buildings are certified by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's ENERGY STAR program; on average such buildings use 35% less energy, cause 35% fewer greenhouse gas emissions, and are less expensive to operate.
Teachers also can integrate these solar installations into lessons. ForeFront offers free solar energy curriculum to partner school districts and web training for teachers. Students can observe and analyze system production using a monitoring platform. Lesson plans are based on Common Core and Next Generation Science Standards.
Officials said it would complement Huntley High School's Engineering Academy curriculum.
"It will give (students) an opportunity to see what the future of energy looks like on campus," school board President Michael Fleck said. "We're going to be setting up kiosks at the various campuses so the students can see how the solar (array) is working."
After 20 years, District 158 will have the option of purchasing the infrastructure or upgrading it.
"A whole generation from now, solar panels might be much more efficient than they are today," Fleck said. "This (project) might have one of the most lasting impacts for the district and for the community."