Solar fields installation planned for spring

Solar fields installation planned for spring


 

Solar energy is set to shine with a contract between Charles County Public Schools (CCPS) and SolarCity, the country’s largest solar power provider.

Solar fields mounted on the ground will be installed at the rear of Robert D. Stethem Educational Center and its neighbor Dr. James Craik Elementary School. Ground-mounted solar panels also will be placed at Piccowaxen and Mattawoman middle schools, and installation of ground-mounted units is set for the new elementary school site on Billingsley Road. Roof-mounted panels will go up at the school system’s maintenance shop on Radio Station Road.

The switch to solar energy at the sites will benefit CCPS financially and environmentally.

“These installations will save the school system on electric costs, help to lower the system’s carbon footprint and provide sustainability of our natural resources,” said Keith Hettel. When he became the assistant superintendent of supporting services, one of Hettel’s goals was to reduce the school system’s carbon footprint.

“One of the ways was through the use of solar energy,” he said. “This will reduce our dependence on our electricity purchases.”

The estimated savings is $350,000 a year, or $7 million over a 20-year span, Hettel said. The agreements signed with SolarCity include no upfront costs to the school system with all the panels supplied by the solar power company. SolarCity also will install the ground-mounted panels and fencing at those sites, and monitor electricity production.

“The use of power will be used by the schools and will be purchased from SolarCity at a lower cost than we now pay for electricity,” Hettel said.

Solar Energy Industries Association, the industry’s trade association, reported in 2014 that Maryland had nearly 40 schools using solar power, with the state ranking ninth in the nation and third in the mid-Atlantic region in its clean energy use. The same report states there are more than 3,750 kindergarten-12 school systems in the U.S. with solar installations.

CCPS has been in the planning stages of introducing solar power for about two years, Hettel said. “It is an excellent time for this with the government support,” he said. “This project is costing us no money to begin. We will be producing power at significant savings.”

Currently, the energy project is in the engineering and permitting stages. Installations will start in the spring, Hettel said.

Solar energy is not the only way CCPS is reducing its carbon footprint. Vehicles with higher gas mileage per gallon have replaced gas guzzlers, while building lights are being retrofitted with energy efficient and LED lighting. The parking lots of T.C. Martin Elementary School and the Robert D. Stethem Educational Center are illuminated with solar lights and drink machines have been fitted with energy saving devices. A small school bus and a mail delivery van have been retrofitted to test as hybrid vehicles using battery power and light switch timers have been installed in rooms which will shut off lighting when no one is using it or no motion has been detected. When the Southern Maryland Electric Cooperative requests it, the cooling systems in schools are shut down during peak hours, it’s a measure that has saved the system about $200,000 annually in rebates from SMECO.

Residents can see solar energy filtering into the county with some homes and businesses boasting solar panels. “[It] cuts down on the need for fossil fuels used to produce electricity,” Hettel said. “It is also very cost effective for the home and business owner.”

Charles County Public Schools provides 26,300 students in grades prekindergarten through 12 with an academically challenging education. Located in Southern Maryland, Charles County Public Schools has 36 schools that offer a technologically advanced, progressive and high quality education that builds character, equips for leadership and prepares students for life, careers and higher education.

The Charles County public school system does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, age or disability in its programs, activities or employment practices. For inquiries, please contact Dr. Patricia Vaira, Title IX/ADA/Section 504 Coordinator (students) or Pamela K. Murphy, Title IX/ADA/Section 504 coordinator (employees/ adults), at Charles County Public Schools, Jesse L. Starkey Administration Building, P.O. Box 2770, La Plata, MD 20646; 301-932-6610/301-870-3814. For special accommodations call 301-934-7230 or TDD 1-800-735-2258 two weeks prior to the event.

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