Solar energy project proposal to be presented to Mehlville Board of Education this week

UPDATE: Superintendent Eric Knost removed this item from his superintendent’s report shortly before Wednesday night’s meeting.

By MIKE ANTHONY

Executive Editor

Mehlville Superintendent Eric Knost planned to present a proposal for a solar energy project to the Board of Education when it meets this week.

The school board was scheduled to meet at 7 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 12, in the Administration Building, 3120 Lemay Ferry Road — after the Call went to press.

Knost said he would outline the proposal for a 25-kilowatt solar energy system to the Board of Education during his superintendent’s report. As proposed, the cost to the district would be $9,500 plus installation, and Knost told the Call he anticipates the project would pay for itself in less than five years.

“… We’ve been exploring any return-on-investment opportunities. We decided to do that. That’s a conversation I had with Terry, probably two years ago,” Knost said of former Superintendent Terry Noble. “We really need to ramp up any opportunities we have where there’s bang for our buck. Solar projects potentially provide that for us because obviously it’s cleaner energy. There’s even an imbedded curricular piece to the concept. We can teach our kids a lot about the concept of pulling energy from solar panels.”

But early explorations of the solar energy projects proved to be cost-prohibitive.

“… We were talking about a 25-kilowatt system upwards of a couple-hundred thousand dollars. The nice thing about a 25-kilowatt system is that it will yield a conservative estimate off of a building, say like a Hagemann Elementary School, it would yield about a $400 a month savings in utilities, which is pretty decent but not a quick return on a couple-hundred-thousand-dollar investment. So that’s where we’ve been kind of hung up …”

But district officials have continued to explore ways to make the solar project cost-effective and learned Ameren Missouri offers a rebate, the superintendent said.

“The maximum that they will provide is for a 25-kilowatt system, which is what we’re looking at, and it’s $50,000. And that is available to a school district, and that’s pretty nice,” he said, but noted that still falls far short of making the project cost-effective for the school district.

However, a federal grant/tax credit of 30 percent is available, but not to school districts, Knost said, adding Larry Hart of L.J. Hart & Co. has voiced his willingness to serve as a “benefactor” to work with a community partnership to help Mehlville realize the solar project.

In addition, a local company, StraightUp Solar, has offered to work with Hart as the supplier to provide him with a 25-kilowatt system with the goal of installing it at one of Mehlville’s schools, tentatively Hagemann Elementary School, Knost said.

As proposed, Hart would purchase the equipment and Mehlville would agree to pass the Ameren rebate through to him.

Furthermore, since Hart is making the initial purchase, he also would be eligible to apply for and receive the 30-percent federal grant/tax credit.

“So ultimately the district ends up with the use of a 25-kilowatt system for $9,500, plus installation,” Knost said. “And what I’m going to propose to the board is that with this concept, we allow Larry to move forward with the purchase and that we bid out the installation …”

By seeking bids for the installation, the hope is another company would be willing join the partnership by providing a low-cost opportunity, the superintendent said.

Conservative estimates indicate the entire project should pay for itself in less than five years, Knost said.

“… Those are very conservative numbers. We’ve had some experts that have real-life examples of these that will tell us: You’re going to save more like $600 a month. But we’re going to stick with the $400 because we think that’s dependable … But less than five years we would return that investment,” he said.

As proposed, once the project is complete and the $9,500 is paid to Hart, he would gift the panels to Mehlville for a nominal fee, according to Knost.

“… So that’s the concept of it. I’m not asking the board for a vote,” he said. “I’m just asking the board to consider the concept …”

As for the curricular part of the system, Knost said, “… Ultimately there will be a kiosk inside of the building and with the technology involved, we’ll be able to monitor live each one of those panels in that 25-kilowatt array and see what they’re doing at any given time. And there’s a real embedded curricular component. So not only will the community be able to come in when they’re visiting the school and see this kiosk and see what’s going on up on the roof … the kids in the school (also) will be able to monitor it and keep it going. And we’re hoping that we can expand it …”

Board of Education President Venki Palamand told the Call he strongly supports the concept of the solar project.

“Mehlville’s innovative approach to green energy will not only save us money over the long run, but provide an opportunity to get our students thinking about 21st-century careers,” he said. “I suspect other school districts will once again be following Mehlville’s lead and installing solar energy in the years to come. After all, it is the ultimate form of renewable energy: Once the panels, wiring and inverters are purchased and installed, the power generated over a 25-year period is almost free.”