Any story of clean tech adoption is inspiring, but solar-powered schools are hard to beat. The latest solar school story is a school district in the Columbia Central School District of Central Pennsylvania that is going solar in a big way. In February 2022, the school board approved plans for approximately 2 megawatts (MW) of solar energy. In addition to rooftop solar systems at the high school, it also includes ground-mounted solar arrays between the middle school, middle school, and elementary school. Here is a guest post for more information Sunshine about the William H. Fitch III School District:
Central PA, nestled between the east/west mountain ranges, is home to the Central Columbia School District (CCSD). Almost exactly halfway between the towns of Bloomsburg and Berwick, the school district “pulls” students from both locations. In February 2022, the school board approved nearly 2 megawatts of PV panel arrays for the school district. The arrays are located in the school district building, which is part of the high school roof, but mostly as ground arrays between the high school, middle school, and elementary school. The ground arrays will be especially useful for the school’s learning environment, allowing students to walk right up to the arrays and “touch and feel” them instead of looking 100 feet or more away on the roof.
All arrays consist of VSUN 545 watt half-cell panels. The panels are double-sided and come with a 30-year linear strength warranty. Today’s panels can easily produce more than 50 years of energy. But despite the continued function, the appeal for decades will be to upgrade to higher output panels on the same infrastructure. In short, 2 megawatts will be 3 or 4 megawatts. CPS 1000 VDC and 1500 VDC string converters drive the outputs of the arrays. State-of-the-art programming interfaces and software will be used to control and manage electricity generation. An energy service agreement has been entered into between Central Columbia SD, Solar Partners LLC and the Central Columbia School District. Minimum power outputs during the life of the system and several other legal requirements are part of the contract.
At the school board meeting in February that secured final approval for the solar arrays, questions from the community were mostly positive or neutral inquiries, unlike any NIMBY antics that have accompanied other solar array proposals in the area. I think it’s a school district “property” that’s already zoned non-residential, and if there’s any visual representation of the lots, it’s a few residential houses. So there was no “not in my back yard” problem. The panel crew has been installing the panels for about two weeks. As shown in the photos below and above, the posts were driven by machines. Another crew will arrive shortly to do the final wiring and connections. In the photos below, you can see some of the wired transducers located in the array areas and on the wall of the district building.
The main utility interface location is shown below with some infrastructure pipelines.
The array area itself is pretty impressive for a small school district in central PA.
When you add the main array area to the panels on the district office roof, the panels on the high school roof, and the small array right behind the corner of the high school, Central Columbia puts “big time” into payback and positive environmental impacts. solar PV. A total of 3,000 panels puts the arm and back muscles to work for panel assembly crews, with each panel weighing 32.5 kg (71 lb). If I did, I’d go through at least one bottle of Ibuprofen!
According to Generation180, Pennsylvania schools have increased PV capacity to 28.8 megawatts by 2021. It is spread across 188 Pennsylvania schools and 88,000 students. They hope to reach 50 megawatts within 5 years. Adding 2 megawatts from the Central Columbia School District would help it “climb” toward that target capacity and exceed 30 megawatts.
Woodland Hills became the first school district in Pennsylvania to adopt a climate-friendly law in 2020. Green building has won awards for taking such a direction. Pennsylvania K-12 schools to double solar production by end of 2020. With about 2% of Pennsylvania schools going solar, there’s still room for growth. Rough math will tell you that if only 2% provides about 30 megawatts of power, 100% will provide about 1,500 megawatts (1.5 gigawatts) for all schools. Now, not all schools can have solar power due to various siting and engineering reasons. However, potential manufacturing capacity in the state is really starting to be tapped for K-12.
On a more balanced and broader note, the PennEnvironment Center for Research and Policy report shows that Pennsylvania ranks 35th in the U.S. overall for clean energy development. There are differences from category to category, but it is clear that Pennsylvania has historically had political sites and policies defined by the natural gas lobby and Marcellus Shale gold mining. I’m not throwing daggers here. It is a simple fact of political voting. Many, many green initiative bills have sat in committee to die cycle after cycle due to lack of action. They are reintroduced after the elections, only to rot in the same dead spot. Inevitably, our political actions or inactions in every sense reveal the realities we must face every day. Needless to say, Pennsylvania has a lot of catching up to do with the rest of the country, and it’s good to see K-12 school districts stepping up to fight for a clean energy world. A great website for tracking legislative action around the country is LegiScan.com. You can access it for free and set parameters for your state, track the progress of a specific bill, and more.
Fixed solar array sites are one of the easiest and lowest maintenance ways to create a solar power grid. No moving parts, no pollution, no energy costs and almost no maintenance. In this day and age, given the most up-to-date, current best practices and solar incentives, it really IS. We need to get out of the way and let schools pursue very aggressive PV enrollment agendas for everyone’s benefit.
By William H Fitch III, We Own the Sun
WeAreSolar.com is a perennial solar and renewable energy consulting and distribution company, as well as some direct installations. He is a current member of ASES and has various renewable energy affiliations. He has been “in” solar and renewable energy in the solar thermal zone since the 1970s – everything from solar ovens to super-insulated homes, hot air and liquid heating systems, flat plates and evacuated tubes. William’s private residence generates about 20 megawatt-hours of PV electricity per year, and it also includes geothermal and solar heating systems. He and his wife drive all-electric cars and use all-electric yard tools. There is no gas.
Professionally, William has spent nearly 40 years in IT – from software coding to systems design and installation of complete network equipment in many commercial environments and large corporations.
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