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Solar projects possible in future for local schools

Posted on November 9, 2016 by Taber Times

By Nikki Jamieson
Taber Times

Three schools in Taber might just very well be running on sun power, after renovations are completed.

The Alberta government announced that they are making funding available for installation of solar panels for 36 Alberta Infrastructure school projects that are in the planning and design phase and have not yet gone to tender. Additional funding will also be provided for schools should they choose to add in education components to the project, such as an app that allows students to monitor the energy intake of the panels.

A total of $9 million has been ear-marked for the program, which is part of its Climate Leadership Plan. The estimated cost for the solar panels would be $250,000 to $750,000 per school, depending on factors such as size of the school and solar panel array, as well as location. A committee will be appointed to oversee the program, with the hope of expanding it over time.

The program is voluntary, so school divisions with eligible schools can choose whether or not they want the panels installed. In Taber, there are two eligible Alberta Infrastructure school projects involving three schools currently in the design phase; St. Patrick’s Elementary School modernization and the D.A. Ferguson/W.R. Myers school modernization.

Right now, Horizon School Division superintendent Wilco Tymensen has a few questions about the project he wants answered first before the school board votes on it. Those questions include whether or not the division itself has to pay extra for it, if money ear-marked for the D.A./Myers modernization will go into that program, who is in charge with the price of maintaining the solar panels over time and, once the life expectancy on the panels runs out, who replaces them.

“We know that it’s optional, we know school jurisdictions have to opt-in to that opportunity, but what we don’t know is if there’s a cost associated with opting in,” said Tymensen. “We have certainly reached out to Alberta (Education), to seek answers to some of those questions… Before we even make a decision on whether we want to be involved with this component, it brings up questions.”

There is also the question of whether the power generated goes towards the school or simply back onto the power grid without benefitting the school. Additionally, HSD has an investment in wind farms, and there is the concern that there might be conflicts through that.

“When all of the wind turbines started coming into Alberta, a number of school divisions across the province partnered with the (Alberta) government, and there was an agreement in place where school divisions could partner with the government to move that green energy forward, and there were a number of school divisions that partnered and we were one of those,” said Tymensen. “Because of that, there were provisions made in terms of your utility rates and fees and so on, that were adjusted because of that, and I don’t know if this (solar panels) will have implications on that.
“Best case scenario, the government is paying for the solar panels, they go up, our utility rates go down, and it’s a win-win scenario for the environment, for financial stability for the province and the jurisdiction.”

For Holy Spirit Catholic School Division, superintendent Christopher Smeaton is slightly more optimistic. The St. Patrick’s modernization is currently at the 30 per cent mark of the design phase.

“When this came out, one of the things we’ll be doing is going back, because it is very exciting news. We’ll have to go back to our architects and see how this might be able to fit into the plans,” said Smeaton. “I would be very supportive of it; I think that’s a technology that, when we can utilize it effectively, then we certainly need to. With the government taking a very forward step in providing funding for that, that’s something that, at the very least, we have to look at.”

Holy Spirit currently has solar panels at St. Joseph’s School in Coaldale, along with micro-wind turbines on the school grounds as well, with data available up to September 2012. Smeaton says that while there is a concern there about vandalism, as the panels are on the roof of the building, there is also benefits as well.

“If there is potential to provide power to the grid, if there is an educational piece, those are all potential benefits to the school and the students,” said Smeaton. “We need to take a look at it; bring our architects in, bring our school administration into the conversation, and see how this can best fit the needs of the school and the students and the staff of the school.”

Both school divisions hope to make a decision on whether or not to opt-in to the program by the end of their November board meetings.

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