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Solar solutions: Panels providing physical, fiscal energy to schools

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By Dwane Wilder

 JACKSBORO—While much of the nation is still debating the value of green power, Campbell County Public Schools have taken the plunge by installing 50-kilowatt solar panel systems installed on each of its 12 school buildings in the district. 

The Tennessee Valley Authority signed a contract with Campbell County to purchase electricity generated by the solar panels for 20 years. The panels were paid for with a 15-year bond issuance of $1,670,000 authorized by the county commission.

“The school system anticipates a total positive cash flow from the operation of the solar panels in the first 15 years of approximately $382,000,” said Campbell County Finance Director Jeff Marlow.

“The first 15-year period is during the time the debt is being retired.  The School System anticipates an additional positive cash flow from the operation of the solar panels in years 16 through 20 of approximately $692,000 after the debt has been retired.  

“Thus, the school system anticipates a total positive cash flow from the operation of the solar panels of approximately $1,074,000 for the first 20 years of operation ($382,000 plus $692,000).”

The solar panels are already providing a boost to the county. 

Board of Education Chairman Josh Parker said White Oak Elementary generated almost $16,000 in energy credit during June, which was $2,000 more than the school’s power bill for the same period.

“In three months, $46,334.99 has been saved for taxpayers due to the solar panels. Contrary to what folks say in the county funding body, it is working,” said Parker of the green power program.

Efficient Energy of Tennessee installed the solar panels on Campbell County schools. The first nine systems were completed March 9, while the last three schools, all in Jellico, got their solar panels in June.

“These systems pay off their own debt,” said Robbie Thomas of Efficient Energy of Tennessee.

Director of Schools Donnie Poston said districts statewide have to be creative in their approach to funding public schools, and solar panels are one way of doing that.

“Superintendents are having to become more resourceful,” said Poston.

“This will be the last year for Race to the Top funds. Next year we’re going to have to be real creative. 

“There are a lot of unfunded mandates as a result of reforms coming down. That is our fear as directors and boards.

“The high cost of technology and new testing requirements…there’s not any system in the state of Tennessee right now that is fully funded.

“It’s a non-ending pressure. The funding of technology, in the future, will be something as necessary as paying a standard utility bill.”