Solar panels SolarPod

Edina Public Schools added solar panels to the roof of the district's bus garage as part of a larger initiative to install them at three district sites. The panels are lightweight and do not leave holes in the roof. (Photo courtesy SolarPod)

The final steps in a years-long initiative by Edina Public Schools to install solar panels at district sites concluded last month.

A 1,028-panel array at Cornelia Elementary and eight-panel array at Edina High School were turned on in September as part of a district project to install the technology at three sites, including its bus garage. In total, the sites’ roofs have 1,684 solar panels, which the district said could dramatically increase its electricity cost savings.

“It took a lot of planning and teamwork to get this right,” Eric Hamilton, director of buildings and grounds for the district, said in a statement. “We are pleased and excited about the results.”

The bus garage, which was the first phase of the project, has a total of 648 panels.

“In the last few years, renewable energy or solar, in particular, has been of keen interest to local governments and schools,” said Peter Lindstrom, manager for public sector and community engagement for Clean Energy Resource Teams.

CERTs, an organization that encourages entities in Minnesota to pursue clean energy projects, began working with the district to implement solar panels through the organization’s Solar Possible program. This program, which facilitates a joint request-for-proposal process for public entities within the Xcel Energy service area, eliminated initial costs to the district and helped select a contractor, SolarPod, to install the solar panels.

In total, the panels provide 682.8 kilowatts of energy, which is expected to save 530 tons of CO2 every year, said Mouli Vaidyanathan, founder of SolarPod. This amount is equivalent to powering 60 homes, he added.

Solar costs and savings

The cost of solar has been decreasing over recent years while utility bills are often one of the largest expenses for school districts, making solar power an attractive option, Lindstrom said.

Vaidyanathan said besides using clean energy, the school is also benefiting financially in the long run.

“Public entities like Edina Public Schools will require energy forever pretty much,” he said. “And the energy from the sun, the fuel is pretty much free.”

He added, “Once you put (in) solar, you do not care whether the fuel prices tomorrow (are) going to be $10 a gallon, or $4 a gallon, or $1 a gallon.”

The district will begin to realize immediate savings from the solar panel installations, and the savings will continue to grow, a district press release stated. Hamilton told the Edina Sun Current that with the panels, “year over year, we should be producing more energy than what we’re using. So that means we shouldn’t be paying for electricity year over year.”

Educational use at EHS

The high school acquired eight panels for an educational array after students from club Project Earth led a fundraising effort to do so. According to a district release, electricity generated from the panels there will go to the Project Lead the Way lab.

According to Vaidyanathan, this array is “one of a kind.” It will provide students with data on how the changing sun angle and weather variability impact solar energy generation, he said.

Lindstrom said he gives students a lot of credit for pushing school administrators across the Twin Cities to implement clean energy sources.

“It’s the students themselves that are saying, ‘Hey, we need to treat our planet a little bit better and be as sustainable as we possibly can,’” he said.

– Follow Caitlin Anderson on Twitter @EdinaSunCurrent

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