Three King William schools to be powered by solar panel project

Staff writer, aluck@tidewaterreview.com

Three schools in King William County will soon see a go-green approach for energy savings in the form of solar panels.

King William County Public Schools has partnered with alternative energy company Sun Tribe Solar for solar panels to power Acquinton Elementary, Cool Springs Primary and Hamilton-Holmes Middle School.

The School Board approved a proposal at its Jan. 15 meeting for Sun Tribe Solar to build a group of ground solar panels behind the bus loop at the back of Hamilton-Holmes.

The land will be developed and the panels will be installed at no cost to the school division, according to Superintendent David White.

The project is expected to begin in the spring or summer and be completed when the 2019-2020 school year begins, according to White.

“They are going to build the solar panel array at their cost,” White said. “They will own and are responsible for all of the equipment installed.”

The division has a 30-year agreement with Sun Tribe and will see a savings of $4,051,252 in power and energy during that time, according to White.

Sun Tribe sells the electricity the panels generate to clients, such as other school divisions, businesses and organizations, at a fixed rate per kilowatt hour, according to the company’s vice president of business development Devin Welch.

King William County Public Schools will pay Sun Tribe $0.083 per kilowatt hour; the division currently pays Dominion Virginia Power $0.10 per kilowatt hour, according to King William schools director of operations Tony Stone and White.

The company also will provide school divisions educational grants for energy-science learning opportunities and staff development, according to Sun Tribe’s education market manager Tony Stephan.

“We work with an organization called the NEED Project, they are experts in clean energy curriculum,” he said. “They work to align lessons with the Virginia Standards of Learning curriculum that is specific for the age group of students participating.

"The grant we provide not only covers teacher training, but also includes classroom kits like single-solar wafers so that students can understand how clean solar energy works and what a valuable role it can play in their lives,” Stephan said. “We are very proud of that work, and it’s a primary benefit of these projects."

The company completed a similar project in August 2018 in Middlesex County that powered the elementary and middle schools; they will begin another project at the high school this summer, according to Welch.

The company is also in the process of constructing solar panels at Westmoreland County and Arlington County Public Schools, according to Welch.

White said he came across the company's work after speaking with Middlesex County Public Schools Superintendent Peter Gretz.

“After talking with Dr. Gretz, we as a division reached out to Sun Tribe and started discussing an agreement for three of our schools,” White said.

Gretz said he was happy to recommend Sun Tribe Solar to White, as the panels have had financial and educational benefits to the division.

“Our students love the fact that we are being more environmentally friendly. We love the fact that our students get to learn about energy savings and have hands on opportunities.”

Middlesex County Public Schools expects to save $2.6 million over 30 years with the panels at the two schools, according to Gretz.

Sun Tribe

The project will have more than 4,500 solar panels and will cost the company more than $1 million, according to Welch.

The energy is converted as sun shines on the panels and creates direct current electricity, which then flows through wires where it is converted to alternating current, which powers schools and homes, according to Welch.

The project is in the site plan phase with Sun Tribe Solar, schools facilities management staff and the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality.

The company takes care of the permitting process for the project, such as a building permit with the county, as well as following regulations by the Department of Environmental Quality, according to Welch.

White said he is looking forward to the energy savings and overall efficiency for the division.

County Administrator Bobbie Tassinari said she is also glad the school division is looking at this innovative way to improve their operational efficiencies.

Luck can be reached at 757-291-2038, aluck@tidewaterreview.com or @ashleyrluck on Twitter

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