Solar panels near the track at Colonie High School. Jim Franco / Spotlight News
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COLONIE — South Colonie is going solar.
A massive 1.7 megawatt solar panel system is now powering the district’s eight schools, school offices, administrative offices, bus garage and lights at the athletic fields.
It’s been in the works for four years, according to the district website, and the system has nine remote solar fields from as far away as Queensbury and Seaward along with two fields with 5,198 panels on the South Colonie campus — at the Transportation Department and the high school fields.
The panels now generate 1.7 million watts district-wide, and is one of the largest solar powered systems assigned to a public school district in the state.
The district is expected to save at least $2.2 million in electricity costs over the next 20 years, said Superintendent Jonathan Buhner on the district website, with a good chance of that number being much higher.
“Regardless of the total amount of savings, this is great news for the district as those resources can be driven back into programming and academic support for our South Colonie students,” Buhner said.
This project also sets the standard for school power production in New York state, added Board of Education President Edward Sim.
“We are helping to keep our environment clean by producing 1.7 megawatts of electricity through a clean energy source,” said Sim, ”and we are saving the taxpayers money by reducing utility bills in all of the schools and support buildings. It’s a win-win situation … setting a good example and saving money.”
South Colonie wrote, applied for, and received a grant approximately four years ago from the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority. The grant covered all expenses for the solar project with the exception of a normal legal review. The vendor for the solar power is Monolith Solar Associates, which installed the system and will sell the solar power to the district at a fixed rate through a power purchase agreement.
“I think it is important for our community members to understand this was a grant, and the efforts made to acquire this grant have paid off as the district is now seeing the benefits of significant power credits on its monthly utility bills,” Sim added on the website.
The project has been moving forward piece by piece over the last four years, and Board of Education Vice President Rose Gigliello tipped her hat to board members for their fortitude in seeing it through to completion.
“What started as a concept combined with NYSERDA grant information in 2013 has evolved into a wonderful accomplishment for the South Colonie Central School District and the community we serve,” Gigliello said.
There is an educational component to the solar power system as well. Monolith has created an Internet-based energy monitoring system so students, educators and the community can be informed daily on the solar energy that is generated in South Colonie and each building’s solar power usage.
The district is in the process of connecting power production solar field links to individual school websites for the public’s interest and information.