Ferris is the first independent school district in Ellis County to incorporated solar panels and the superintendent calls the partnership with the vendor a win-win.
“We are trying to be progressive as it relates to energy efficiencies and to be good stewards of tax dollars,” said Ferris ISD Superintendent James Hartman.
A plan to utilize renewable energy from the sun was approved in a board of trustees meeting in November 2017. It then took a full year before the first solar panel was installed.
The five-campuses in the district, as well as the administrative building, will all be topped with solar panels. A Ferris ISD release stated the project cost the school district zero dollars for the installation.
Hartman explained the district partnered with Solar One, which is an energy management and solar development company located in Sherman. Hartman and Jason Robinson, the project developer with Solar One, explained the benefits to both parties are positive.
The panels are owned by Solar One, which means the company is responsible for the maintenance, insurance and equipment, alleviating the district of the financial investment.
“Our benefit is that we are buying the electricity that gets generated on our rooftops from them at a reduced cost,” Hartman explained. “So we are saving money every time we purchase our own electricity from them then what we would purchase from Direct or whoever it is on the open market.”
A total of 25 percent of annual consumption of energy will be purchased from Solar One. The rate at what the district pays for electricity will be a significant costs savings for the next 20 years, he explained.
Hartman pitched some rough numbers and estimated about $25,000 in annual savings and about $500,000 savings over the 20 years that could be utilized for curriculum. Hartman also noted that Solar One fronted FISD $200,000 as part of the contract for the production and purchase of electricity generated through the facilities.
Robinson said the discussion of incorporating solar energy in Texas school districts is frequent, but districts usually do not want to “be the first.” He then noted that 2017 and 2018 are ideal years to implement them efficiently.
“In all honesty, with the federal subsidies that are in place they are scheduled to begin increasing in 2020,” Robinson elaborated. “So, we truly believe now is the best time to go solar because as those federal subsidies depreciate, that means we are not getting as much help on our end.”
Robinson explained other benefits of solar energy is in the Oncor service used, as the population is expected to grow exponentially by 2030.
"With that influx of population, that is going to put an extreme demand on the utility," Robinson said. "That is why they incentivize developers like to say, ‘hey come here and help us get solar on facilities, districts, commercial businesses, residences and we will pay you to do that.' So, we are the ones that are producing some of the on-peak power."
He continued, "It’s easier for them to incentivize us to off-take that than to build more infrastructure.”
Robinson mentioned solar energy is planned to be installed at other Texas districts such as Pilot Point, Garland, Celina and Whitesboro ISDs. He also noted that Ferris ISD is one of the first Texas school districts enter into a contract with Solar One.
Over the past 10 years, the average price of a school solar installation has dropped by 67 percent. That trend includes a drop of 19 percent in 2017 alone, according to a report by The Solar Foundation.
That report also stated that 61 percent of the solar capacity in kindergarten through 12th-grade schools has been installed in the last five years. As of the fall of 2017, there were 5,489 K-12 schools with solar installations in the U.S. Since 2014, that’s a 47 percent growth, according to the report.
Nationwide, 4.4 percent of schools utilize solar power, and 7.7 percent of students are educated under a roof with a solar array. Nevada takes the top spot for percentage of schools with solar energy at 23 percent.
For FISD, solar energy was the next step to be efficient. The district underwent a lighting retrofit project two years ago and eliminated incandescent lights and installed LED lighting inside buildings and in parking lots.
“That was about a $900,000 — $1 million project with the idea of it paying for itself over the years and from there it’s more energy efficient,” Hartman emphasized.
FISD also utilizes a software management system to manage all HVAC and heating and cooling equipment, which is common among other Ellis County districts.
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Ashley Ford | @aford_news | 469-517-1450