High school seeks funds for solar panels

By Nick Sambides Jr., BDN Staff
Posted March 31, 2010, at 11:38 p.m.

HOWLAND, Maine — Angled at 25 degrees, facing south-southeast and very broad, the Penobscot Valley High School roof is perfect for solar panels, SAD 31 Superintendent Jerry White says.

That’s why he wants more.

White is seeking federal or state funding that would allow him to fit at least 30 more Mitsubishi 155-watt solar panels to the 66 installed on the roof during a school renovation in the spring of 2008.

“We could triple the number of panels just on that side of the roof if there were grant funding available,” White said. “We are expecting a 12-year payback on the ones there now. After that, geez, it’s free money.”

White estimated that the installed panels save about 1,200 kilowatts, or 5 percent of the school’s electric bill, per month. The 30 panels would cost about $26,000, he said.

The school system, which serves Burlington, Edinburg, Enfield, Howland, Maxfield and Passadumkeag, probably could not buy more panels without aid, said John Neel, chairman of the SAD 31 board of directors.

Expected state funding shortfalls will make school funding for the project unlikely this year. The board will hold workshops this month and might discuss its budget at its April 14 meeting, Neel said Wednesday.

PVHS was the first school that Lee Goggin, owner of Lee Solar of Dover-Foxcroft, sold panels to. White was enthusiastic, Goggin said.

“He wanted to cover that whole roof with them,” Goggin said. “It’s turned out to be a plus for the school. That [the 5 percent savings] is not bad considering the size of the school.”

Solar panel costs have fallen this year, from $1,200 to $700 for a 180-watt panel, but total system costs still run $15,000 to $45,000, Goggin said.

“It depends on … who is selling them and installing them,” Goggin said.

Electrician Russell Banks of Banks Electric of Burlington installed the school’s panels.

White said he has spoken to officials at Efficiency Maine, a statewide Maine Public Utilities Commission effort to promote electricity efficiency, help Maine residents and businesses reduce energy costs and improve Maine’s environment, about funding more panels.

They said the PVHS project is excellent, but they would first want to help older schools that need it more, he said.

The 2-year-old, $3.9 million renovation of PVHS and interconnected Hichborn Middle School also added new lights, electrical wiring, heating and plumbing systems, hallway tiles and fire protection systems to the buildings.

White’s search continues.

“I know there are a lot of alternative energy programs coming out that haven’t really hit yet,” White said. “I am anticipating that between now and the end of summer I would have some word on other grant funds that are available.”

http://bangordailynews.com/2010/03/31/news/bangor/high-school-seeks-funds-for-solar-panels/ printed on July 22, 2014