Renewable energy for Sheridan Schools
School board looks to add solar panels to elementary school
Renewable energy was the main topic of discussion during the Sheridan School Board meeting Feb. 13. The board is considering integrating solar power at the elementary school building.
During the meeting, school maintenance director Rahn Abbott and local electrical contractor Dan Kenworthy presented potential costs, paybacks and grant opportunities for solar panels. “One of the contractors reached out to me and that was something I had discussed with the superintendent about before, so we reached out to other contractors and put together an idea to look and see if this was a viable project for the school,” said Abbott.
According to their research, adding solar panels to the Sheridan’s elementary building could potentially produce about one-third of that building’s power. Whether that would reflect the buildings electric bill depends on the electric company’s billing cycle. “Solar panels would produce about a third of the power used and that may or may not match up dollar-wise, just based on the general billing cycle,” Abbott said.
Kenworthy was one of five contractors who put out a non-formal bid for the potential project. A believer in renewable energy and solar panels, Kenworthy just completed a solar project for the Sheridan Town Hall and is gearing up for another project on the Twin Bridges Senior and Community Center. The contractor also utilizes solar panels on his home and business and said most panels come with a 25-year warranty.
Kenworthy informed the board potential grants are available, such as Northwestern Energy’s USB Renewable Energy grant. In 1997, Montana established the Universal System Benefits program, and the legislation requires all electric and gas utilities to establish USB funds for low-income energy assistance, weatherization, energy efficiency activities and development of renewable energy resources.
Some of the grant funding comes with a 90 percent match, meaning if the school were to receive a grant with 90 percent funding, the payback on a solar project could be as quick as 18 months. “It really depends on the dollar amount we get for grant funding,” Abbott said. “If we had zero funding, payback on the project could be anywhere from 13 to 14 years – 50 percent funding would probably be somewhere around the seven to eight-year mark.”
According to Kenworthy, many of the 90 percent funding grants are disappearing. The contractor also discussed potential changes in the law, such as net metering. Currently, net metering allows for a dollar-per-dollar trade. If you produce a lot of energy in the summer but don’t use all of it, you can store up credit through your net-metering agreement and use those energy credits when you need them at a dollar-per-dollar trade. “It’s risky in that way,” said Kenworthy. “We don’t know how the laws could or couldn’t change and wouldn’t know until the 2019 legislature.”
The board made no decisions on the solar project and will revisit the topic during its March meeting.
The board discussed a new track facility for the school and is looking at bids. No motions or decisions were made during the meeting, whether or not to accept any bids. “There are still some questions to be answered here and we need to decide if we want to move ahead on this,” said Sheridan Superintendent Mike Wetherbee. “We never said this was going to be a high-speed project. We want quality and to move with conviction.”
The board decided to research the project and bids further and revisit the topic during the March meeting.
Elementary Principal Rod Stout’s term was renewed unanimously by the board, following high remarks and recommendations from Wetherbee. “He’s doing a great job and knows when to call me and when he can handle something on his own.”