Kingsport school board pondering solar power/LED light deal

Rick Wagner • Aug 28, 2019 at 5:30 PM

KINGSPORT — Solar panel  arrays at 10 Kingsport City Schools buildings and energy-saving LED lighting throughout the school system could be in place by this time next year, according to a tentative timeline Ameresco account executive Steve Seifried presented to the Board of Education at a Tuesday night work session.

However, that would require the school system’s approval by late this year. And issues yet to be determined are how the $10 million project would be funded, which would require Board of Mayor and Aldermen approval, and if the new lighting and solar power-generating equipment would be secured by a lease purchase, if allowed by state law, or just a lease. Ameresco representatives said city officials have indicated getting a loan through the company was not an option, so that could mean a bond issue or a lease that would be lower than current electric bills, Seifried said.

After Seifried’s presentation to the five-member board, which includes new members Julie Byers and Jim Welch, board members asked him to provide a summary of the 30 percent engineering study the firm did on the potential project before the BOE’s Sept. 12 meeting. At that meeting, the board could vote to move on to the 60 percent study that would cost $60,000 if the school system doesn’t proceed after it is completed.

If the board votes to proceed with the project by late October, Seifreid said Ameresco could start work in March 2020 and finish when school starts in August of that year.

Board member Todd Golden suggested the company work with the city on a project for city buildings, too, although Seifried said city officials weren’t sold on that idea but wanted to support the school system in its endeavor if the BOE chooses to move forward.

After the meeting, however, Seifried said that the idea might not be as attractive to the city because a special buy-back clause, in which the school system would be able to get credit for power generated in the summer when school usage was low and then banked for later use, is for the school system only. During the meeting, he said it would be for a limited time, and board members requested that Ameresco ask AEP when the offer would expire.

“We’re in the education business. I don’t really want to do an energy business,” Golden said, while Seifried said it instead was a “cost avoidance endeavor” that would help improve instruction, with learning opportunities from the solar system, as well as student and teacher performance, with better lighting.

“I don’t have any desire to inherit solar equipment,” Welch said. “But I am interested in saving money.”

Data from the 30 percent study has been available for months, but Superintendent Jeff Moorhouse said school system leaders didn’t want to proceed with the project until the two new members came on the board and were up to speed on the proposal. The board in September 2018 approved the 30 percent study at no cost to the school system.

Seifried said the beauty of how ever the school system might proceed is that it would save the system over a 20-year period in lower energy costs than without the system and not being tied into electricity rate increases over those two decades, although there could be slight increases in some cases. In addition, he said the solar component would provide students at all grade levels learning opportunities, from a solar “wagon” going into elementary schools to career technical education and science opportunities at the high school level.

Ameresco development manaer Tyler Scott said the only time guaranteed savings were not realized was due to solar product failure, which he said the company would cover. Senior project development engineer Phil Kruer said the LED lighting should last at least 25 years, with most commercial application failures coming shortly after installation.





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