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By Carmen Ensinger
North Greene School Board heard a proposal at their Wednesday, Aug. 17, board meeting from QFB Energy about installing solar panels on the Jr./Sr. high to help offset the cost of electricity at that building.
“The price of natural gas has gone through the roof in the last year and a half,” QFB Energy Consultant Ron Frericks said. “Two years ago, natural gas was $2.50 per dekatherm and today it reached a high of $9.50 per dekatherm.”
Frericks said that currently 40 percent of the energy generated in this area is done through coal and 40 percent by natural gas – what is known as “fossil fuels.”
“In a move to eliminate fossil fuels out of the equation, specifically coal, green energy is on everyone’s mind,” Frericks said. “The government is now giving incentives for people to transition, but you can’t shut down 150 years of infrastructure built on fossil fuels by the flip of a switch – it takes time.”
This is not the first time QFB has approached the district about going solar.
“We were here three years ago representing our solar partner and we talked about a ground mount system that would supply the district with electricity at a rate of 3.8 cents per kilowatt hour,” Frericks said. “The biggest barrier at that time was the price of the power and the use of district land to generate that power. So, now we are back here with a roof mount implementation from our partner Forefront and we will go through the reasons we are partnering with them rather than try to do it ourselves.”
Frericks said Forefront Power is a very big provider of solar power.
“They are rated Best in Class not just in Illinois but Nationally as well,” Frericks said. “They have a large presence in Illinois but one of the key things is they are backed by a very secure financial operation. Mitsui is their parent company and has been such since 1966.”
According to Frericks, one wants a very stable financial backer because the district will be signing a Purchase Power Agreement (PPA). The government has incentives in place that makes companies, who can receive these tax incentives, want to install solar in places like school districts.
“You are a non-profit, so these tax incentives would not apply to you,” Frericks said. “These incentives come in the form of a federal tax credit.”
In Illinois the program is called Illinois Shines and it is part of the Adjustable Block Program, a state-administered program for new solar photovoltaic (PV) systems. The program provides payments in exchange for 15 years of Renewable Energy Credits (REC) generated by these solar systems.
“The PPA you will be signing if you choose to do this will be for 20 years and if you do something for 20 years, you want to know you are doing it with a stable company that is not going to sell that agreement once the incentives are gone,” Frericks said. “Someone who is going to be around and not take those incentives and sell the contract to someone else so you won’t know who is going to be maintaining that solar field on your roof for the remainder of that contract. That is why you want to sign with a sound financial company.”
As for the cost to the district – there is absolutely no out of pocket cost at all to the district.
“The financial backer of the solar implementation is the one who is responsible for all of the cost,” Frericks said. “Essentially, you sign the contract with the investment group. Their investment is in selling that power back to you over the life of that contract.”
The district will not own the solar panels, nor will they be responsible for maintaining them or keeping them operational.
After the 20 year contract is up, the district has three options, they can have the solar panels removed and have the roof put back to pre-solar condition, buy the panels for fair-market value or keep them operational if they are still in good working order.
Frericks said time is of the essence.
“The application for the incentives needs to be submitted by the end of September to claim those incentives,” he said. “If you do decide to go ahead with this, nothing would start until possibly next summer.”
The board agreed to take it under advisement and have an answer by the September board meeting, before the end of September deadline.