After a couple of bad winters, school districts have plenty of reasons to hope for sunnier, less snowy days ahead this season. There’s higher heating costs, extra plowing, wear and tear on buses, to name a few.
Add this to the list: Solar power.
Eleven local districts and one BOCES are among more than 100 school systems in the state now registered for K-Solar, a partnership between the New York Power Authority (NYPA) and the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA).
Participating schools will receive free energy advisory services to determine if they have the capacity for solar panels — that means fairly new roofs that are in good condition. Meanwhile, NYPA is soliciting bids from solar developers with the goal of vetting a pool of vendors from which districts can contract with to install solar panels, if they choose, NYPA spokeswoman Connie Cullen said.
Districts aren’t obligated to commit to installation; they can simply take advantage of the free advisory services, Cullen said.
If the district does decide to enter a contract with a solar developer, the idea is that it will not incur installation costs and taxpayers will end up paying only for the cost of the electricity generated, according to Cullen.
Solar developers would rely on federal incentives to lower the cost of the installations, she said.
Registered districts in the Lower Hudson Valley include Blind Brook, Croton Harmon, Dobbs Ferry, Hastings on Hudson, Mount Pleasant, Pocantico Hills, Port Chester, Tarrytown, Somers and White Plains in Westchester County, and East Ramapo in Rockland County. Southern Westchester BOCES is also participating.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced the program Sept. 4, with 40 districts registered. As of Friday, 102 had signed on, according to Cullen.
Director of Facilities and Operations for Southern Westchester BOCES Tom DiBuono said the approximately 15-year-old solar panels on his auto shop and culinary building on the Valhalla campus have served as a learning tool for students over the years, but he hopes that the program will help BOCES add more panels and generate significant energy savings.
“We have five fairly large buildings all with flat roofs and no tree cover,” he said. “It’s a perfect location for solar panels and I think that’s what most schools throughout the state that have applied are finding.”
“Schools are an untapped resources for these types of systems,” he added. “I’m amazed that this hasn’t come up before.”
Tarrytown schools officials are also excited about the possibilities.
“For one it’s green,” said Peter Quartironi, director of facilities for the district. “For two, you’d be able to lock in rates. We can do teaching programs off it – science, math, calculations. They could go on their computers and see real-time usage and savings.”
The Obama Administration has pushed to reduce carbon emissions and increase use of solar power; on Thursday the president announced $68 million in federal funds for 540 renewable power and energy efficiency projects, including 240 solar ones.
A study released Sept. 18 by the Solar Energy Industries Association reports that there are 160 K-12 schools in New York already solar photovoltaic systems, making it the 10th ranked state in the country for highest photovoltaic capacity in kilowatts. Nationwide, nearly 4,000 K-12 schools have solar systems, with more than three-quarters of those installed in the last six years, according to the study.