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Local schools saving money using solar energy systems

POSTED: Tuesday, March 19, 2013 - 2:00pm
UPDATED: Tuesday, March 19, 2013 - 10:27pm

Local schools are embracing the arrival of spring and more sunshine with open arms. A few Waco schools have installed solar panels onto their buildings to generate energy. And, the added sunlight helps put money back into their budgets.

Rapoport Academy claims to be the first public school in the area to have them, after receiving a $368,000 grant from the State Energy Conservation Office to fund the solar system. Their 60 megawatt system was up and running in October 2011. They say not only are their 250 panels eco-friendly, but also a great learning tool for the students, in elementary through high school, by using real time tracking to measure the energy production.

"You can look at what the panels are making and how much energy they're producing at any given time," said Rapoport Academy Superintendent, Alexis Neumann.

The solar panel system is also a part of Rapoport Academy’s National Green Schools Initiative, which already includes recycling, a garden, and a greenhouse on campus.

Across town, Hallsburg ISD used about 300 thousand dollars from a court settlement to install 266 solar panels onto their school buildings, generating about 85,000 kWh of electricity each year. The remaining 100 thousand dollars of the settlement is earmarked for future solar projects, as the district prepares for campus upgrades in the next few years.

"The technology is coming along, and you know, we can use this as learning tools. And, I definitely see it in the future," said Kent Reynolds, Superintendent of Hallsburg ISD.

Hallsburg ISD has also incorporated skylights in one of the classrooms to let in natural light through the roof, instead of relying solely on electricity.

These schools hope the multi-hundred thousand dollar systems will pay for themselves in the long run. Already, Rapoport Academy says they save about $1,200 a month, which Green Mountain Energy buys back from the school. Hallsburg ISD says it’s too early to get a full scope of their savings, since their solar panels were installed just this past summer. However, in the last four months, Reynolds says about $678 is saved each month. Both schools say the added savings goes back into the schools’ already tight budgets.

"We hope it will pay for itself, as far as energy savings in the long run. But for us, it's been more than we could have ever done on our own," said Neumann.

And, Neumann says other area schools and some non-profits have inquired about incorporating the energy system onto their campuses.

"We gave them information. We walked them through our system and let them know what we were able to do, so they could do the same thing with theirs," said Neumann.

Rapoport Academy plans to renovate another building on campus, including incorporating a solar energy system and possibly a wind energy system as well.

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