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Solar array provides savings to school, energy to neighbors



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June 02, 2010 - Upland Hills School in Addison Township is busy capturing the sun's rays and converting them into electricity to power not only itself, but its neighbors as well.

"Our goal as a school is to become a net energy producer, so that we're actually generating more electricity than we're using," said Phil Moore, director of the independent school located at 2575 Indian Lake Road.

In late March, Upland Hills had a 10-kilowatt solar array, consisting of 48 Photovoltaic panels, installed on its roof as part of the Michigan Renewable Schools Program, a two-year project bringing energy efficiency and renewable energy improvements and education to public and private K-12 schools throughout the state.

"We predict we're going to eliminate between 50 and 70 percent of electrical bill on an annual basis at this point," Moore said.

The Michigan Renewable Schools Program is being administered by the nonprofit Energy Works Michigan, which received a $3.5 million grant from the Michigan Public Service Commission.

Upland Hills' solar array cost $85,000. The school received a $42,500 grant plus a $24,000 rebate from DTE Energy, meaning the total cost to Upland Hills was actually $18,500.

"There weren't too many schools that had extra money hanging around," Moore noted.

Upland Hills will continue receiving a renewable energy credit from DTE amounting to at least $1,212 annually. Over a 20-year period, the credit is expected to generate $24,240

When coupled with the $36,432 in savings Upland Hills is projected to receive on its monthly electric bill over the next 20 years, the solar array will garner $60,672 in total credits and savings.

"If you're saving 60 or 70 percent of your electrical bill every year that goes along with the (renewable energy) credit, so probably in three or four years that $18,500 investment will be taken care of and then we'll be set for 20 to 30 years at a minimum," Moore said.

The school's electric bill for the month of April was only $36.22 for a building that's between 4,000 and 5,000 square feet.

According to the bill, the school's average daily usage was 80 kilowatt-hours (kWh) in April 2009. Last month, it was 14.1 kWh, which represents an 82 percent reduction.

Granted, the bill was for April 13-30, not the entire month, because that's when the new digital electric meter was installed to replace the analog meter, but Moore is still pretty excited.

"Based on our 17-day bill in April, we're very optimistic," Moore said. "That was the spring. Wait till the summer comes, when we don't really have electrical usage at school. It's an ideal time for us to really bank a lot of credits. We'll be spinning the meter in the opposite direction."

Because the solar array is tied to the normal electrical grid, Moore said Upland Hills' neighbors will ultimately benefit from the excess energy produced by the school's solar array during the summer months.

They'll still pay DTE for the electricity, but they'll be "fed green energy that we've produced," Moore said.

Savings, credits and energy production aside, Moore indicated the new solar array fits perfectly with Upland Hills "eco-literacy" curriculum, which instructs students on "living as lightly as we can on this planet, leaving as soft a footprint as we possibly can leave."

"Our school's curriculum is really based on sustainable, clean tech revolution ideas," he said. "It's woven into every aspect of our curriculum, from our youngest children to our oldest children."

Moore said students of all ages will be "able to interact" with the solar array and the data it yields "in ways that really are not traditional for most schools."

"The exciting thing about this for me as an educator is that in many schools, you don't have the opportunity to do much outside of a science or a math class," he said. "Given benchmarks, you don't really have much time to play around with this."

For more information about Upland Hills School, visit www.uplandhills.org.

CJ Carnacchio is editor for The Oxford Leader. He lives in the Village of Oxford with his wife Connie and daughter Larissa. When he's not busy working on the newspaper, he enjoys cigars/pipes, Martinis/Scotch, hunting and fishing.
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