By NICOLE ANTONUCCI
FONDA -- The Fonda-Fultonville Central School District could potentially realize $1.2 million in savings over the next 20 years if it installs a large solar panel system, officials said Monday.
At a special board of education meeting, representatives from General Electric's Solar Division presented to the board several options on how a solar project could benefit the district.
"We have toured the site and we think it is a unique site, being one of the only with on-site generation," GE Solar business leader Erik Schiemann said. "However, there is a lot of specific analysis that is still required."
The current proposal involves the installation of three systems throughout the district totaling 1,100 kilowatts. The first system would involve ground mounted panels on the hill toward the rear of the buildings, totaling 425 kilowatts. The second system would be installed on the south-facing roofs of the elementary school for another 300 kilowatts. Finally, there is the option of installing the remaining panels on the flat roofs of the building on the southern end.
GE Solar System engineering manager Brian Baxter said the third option is the least favorite since flat roofs don't allow for optimal use. It would also require an analysis of the district roofs to make sure it could handle the additional weight from the panels.
"In total, we can generate 40 percent of your energy consumption," Baxter said. "There is potential for more. It could change as we get more information. This is just an illustration of what could be done."
Schiemann said the project would be part of a power purchasing agreement, or PPA, where the company would own and maintain the equipment, but the district would be using the energy.
"GE designs builds and installs the system. That is on our costs," he said. "What we offer to the district is no upfront costs, no operation and maintenance fees ever. All you do is buy the energy from the solar system as it generates. We offer that power at a rate that is less than the grid."
It would be an additional power source to the district, which currently relies on a co-generator system that is nearing the end of its life.
Schiemann said upon reviewing a study of the co-gen system completed a few years ago, the district is currently consuming 3.5 million kilowatt hours a year.
While the district will inevitably have to go back on the grid by getting electricity with National Grid, it means the district would begin getting a bill for energy consumption.
Schiemann said prevailing rates are currently at 13.3 cents per kilowatt hour, with a potential increase of four to six percent each year.
However, depending on the time of the year, the rates fluctuate from as low as 8 to 26 cents.
The benefit of the PPA, Schiemann said, is that there would be a fixed rate for the entire year, avoiding the increases and decreases in electric rates that occur depending on the season. This usually results in savings, he said, adding the savings increase each year of the PPA.
Instead of buying the electric at 13.3 cents from the electric company, the rate under the PPA would be 11.2 cents. So, if the district were to generate 1.4 million kilowatt hours, it would save $28,000 in the first year. Since the rates under the PPA don't increase as quickly as those with an electric company, the district would see an increase in savings each consecutive year.
"Over time, your savings continue to grow," Schiemann said, adding solar energy is most effective during the day when energy use is at its highest.
In addition, the board of education could see further savings through incentives provided by the state. However Schiemann said the first round of incentives recently ended and the next round of incentives is scheduled to be released in the fall.
Using a baseline scenario, Schiemann said the district could potentially see $1.2 million in savings over 20 years.
Board member Mary Frollo asked what happens to the system after 20 years.
Schiemann said the board has the potential to buy the system, renew the agreement with GE or replace the system with a new one.
"It depends on what the board wants," he said. "There would be provisions put in the PPA for when that time comes."
District Treasurer Carey Shultz said this project would be larger than the project that was proposed in the capital bond proposal.
"The state won't fund any solar project more than 10-kilowatts," Shultz said, adding the project would be done separately.
Board member Dennis Egelston asked if there were any other districts in the state who were using solar energy through power purchase agreement, but Schiemann said F-FCSD was the first district they spoke to about such a project.
Superintendent Raymond Colucciello said the project fits in with Gov. Andrew Cuomo's "K-Solar" initiative, a program to provide incentives, financing, and technical assistance to schools interested in reducing energy costs, and creating healthier environments for students through on-site solar installation.
"The board has talked about renewable energy and has always been involved in how to conserve energy as a board," Colucciello said. "This is an exciting opportunity."
Before the board makes a decision, Schiemann asked for more time in gathering a team to further explore the district, gather information, and provide additional options.
"I think we need to bring you more GE," he said. "I think solar will be an interesting part on its own, but it is a partial benefit. I don't want to leave those other assets if we can. I want the experts to dig more."