Three State College Area School District elementary school construction projects scheduled to begin in December will now include rooftop solar arrays.
Corl Street, Spring Creek and Radio Park elementary schools will be added to a list of about 4,000 K-12 schools nationwide that are outfitted with solar arrays, according to the Solar Foundation.
After weeks of internal, as well as public, discussion surrounding the economic feasibility of the solar option, the school board was presented at a meeting on Nov. 8 with an agenda item that would have rejected the solar plan, which adds about $500,000 to the total construction cost of the three projects.
In a 5-4 vote, the board voted no on that item, but immediately following the vote, school board member Gretchen Brandt made a motion to accept the plan and add the arrays to the buildings. That motion passed.
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Joining Brandt in support of the plan were board members Amy Bader, Dan Duffy, Laurel Zydney and board President Amber Concepcion. To help steer the decision-making process, the group cited the opportunity for limiting the environmental impacts of relying on fossil fuel for energy as well as estimates that indicate the energy savings would offset the cost of the arrays.
The almost 4,000 schools that have installed solar arrays have generated about 640,000 megawatt-hours of electricity, which has saved about $78 million and is enough renewable energy to offset the use of about 50 million gallons of gasoline, according to the Solar Foundation.
“This is our chance to do something,” Brandt said. “This is a privilege to sit on this board and be able to vote on this, it’s a privilege, and within our lifetimes this vote could be the most significant environmental choice that we make.”
Board members Scott Fozard, David Hutchinson, Penni Fishbaine and board Vice President Jim Leous voted in opposition to the solar arrays citing uncertainty around a net-zero cost over the life of the arrays and a reluctance to “make a statement” with taxpayer funds.
The district expects the arrays to generate about 230,000 kilowatt-hours of electricity per year. Using conversion numbers provided by the U.S. Energy Information Administration, the district will be responsible for a reduction of about 280,000 pounds of carbon dioxide each year, which equates to burning about 14,000 gallons of gasoline.
“I’m afraid of the cumulative effect of everyone waiting for alternative energy sources to have a net-zero cost or to be sure there’s a net-zero cost,” Concepcion said. “While we’re doing that, climate change effects are cascading to a pretty dangerous tipping point. I don’t want to be part of that cumulative effect.”