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Darlington School District plans to install solar panels on DEMS roof
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The school board of the Darlington Community School District approved a contract with Hoffman Planning, Design and Construction, Inc. for $12,500 to assist the district with solar panel energy grants and installation, at a board meeting on May 20.

The school recently hired Hoffman to conduct a district wide facility study, and the solar energy project is one of the findings that came from that.

Hoffman reported they could assist with applying for grants and assisting with setting up the project, which would be an advantageous thing to pursue in order to make the district more energy efficient and lower the district’s energy bill.

The district has released a request for bids looking for solar power companies who would be willing to enter into an LLC with the district on the project.

Through the development of an LLC, an agreed upon number of solar panels would be placed on the roof of the Darlington Elementary/Middle School (DEMS) over which the LLC would have ownership for an initial 15-20 year span.

During that time the LLC would be responsible for all maintenance and upkeep cost of the panels, and the Darlington School District would be able to purchase some of the energy that is produced from the panels.

According to Lee Black, head of maintenance for the district, there would be a total 156-kilowatt system available to the district, which would ideally be split between the two buildings. Black reported that in the last year this amount of energy would have covered 20 percent of the district’s electric bill.

Black also said that snow cover had been factored into the efficiency of the panels, and should not be a problem.

After the 15-20 years have gone by, the expectation would then be for the district to buy out the LLC and take over complete ownership of the solar panels. Denise Wellnitz, district administrator, said that the approximate buyout cost at that time is estimated to be around $80,000.

According to Black, the panels typically have a lifespan of 25-30 years and that each panel only loses 0.5 percent of its productivity each year, leaving the district with panels operating on 90 percent productivity when taking over ownership.

The DEMS building was selected for the installation as the building has a flat roof and there are no nearby trees that could potentially interfere with the panels.

Wellnitz said that the anticipated cost of the total project will be around $300,000, and that both the district and the LLC would be contributing portions of that cost.

The district has already received a $63,000 Focus on Energy grant incentive that can be put toward the project, and hopes to pursue a USDA grant that could cover 20 percent of the project, with the assistance of the LLC when it is formed.

It is hoped that the project will be complete by the end of this year, with installation tentatively taking place in November.

According to Black the amount of energy produced by this project, would have saved an estimated 165 tons of carbon dioxide from entering the atmosphere, thereby reducing the district’s carbon footprint.

In addition to the eco-friendly aspects of this project, the process of creating energy from solar panels on the roof of the school can be applied to the classroom as well.

Wellnitz noted that there will be a program that teachers and students can monitor online, that will outline how much energy is produced by the panels each day, allowing classes to track and graph the information.

“It will be a really neat project when it’s done,” said Wellnitz. “And we’re really the only one in southwest Wisconsin with a project this size.”