The Hawkins County Board of Education will now have to decide if moving the large wall of solar panels from the front of the school to available space at the rear is warranted. And if so, who will pay for it?
Wednesday afternoon several Surgoinsville residents and members of the Board of Mayor and Aldermen met with Hawkins County school officials at Surgoinsville Middle to discuss their objections to new solar panels installed in front of the school.
A $7 million solar panel project, paid for by private investors, was recently completed at 20 Hawkins County school facilities.
Panels have been installed at 20 school facilities. Some were placed on the roof and some on the ground. At Surgoinsville Elementary School, the panels were installed behind the school.
So far the Surgoinsville Middle panels are the only to receive a negative response from their community.
Electricity generated by the panels will be sold to the Tennessee Valley Authority.
Brian Bednar, president of Charlotte, N.C.-based Birdseye Renewable Energy and one of the private investors in the project, attended Wednesday’s meeting.
Bednar said he wouldn’t object to moving the panels to a location behind the school, but the issue of the cost of the move still must be resolved. Bednar said he would “spend some money,” but he also left the impression that investors aren’t willing to cover the entire cost by themselves.
Members of the Surgoinsville BMA said they weren’t opposed to solar energy. A wall of solar panels about 7 feet high that stretches the length of a football field recently was installed in front of the school along Main Street.
“When you drive west on Rte. 346 now all you see is the ugly mass of the backside of solar panels,” Surgoinsville alderman Larry Dykes said. “No one here is opposed to solar energy or solar panels. We’re proud to have them. We just don’t want it in our front yard.”
Surgoinsville Police Chief Jeff Hesoun said the panels block the view of law enforcement onto school grounds and give potential perpetrators a sight advantage over responding police.
Bednar suggested that the wall of panels could be divided into three sections on Main Street so the front of the school can be seen better from the road. He said that option would cost about $10,000.
Surgoinsville Vice Mayor Merrill Graham told Bednar the people of Surgoinsville won’t be satisfied by anything but the removal of the panels from the front of the school.
The school system and the investors have a contract with TVA to provide solar energy, so the panels won’t be removed permanently, at least for the 20-year life of the current deal.
“Moving them to the back is the most expensive alternative, but we’re willing to try to make everyone happy,” Bednar said.
“We want to fix it and come up with a solution that works,” he added. “That’s why I’m here and why I’m willing to spend some money. However, I’d like to find something (efficient). I don’t believe in wasting. If we can find something that works for everybody and solves the problem, that’s the way to do it.”
The Hawkins County Board of Education is expected to discuss the fate of Surgoinsville Middle School’s solar panels at an upcoming meeting.
Hawkins County Schools’ projected revenue from the 20 solar sites will be $875,000 over a 20-year period, or $43,750 annually in revenue for the school system. One-time revenue of $1,000 per site also will be earned this year as part of a TVA incentive program, bringing the total revenue for the first year’s solar production to $63,750.