Power play: Ketron hopes to use solar, geothermal to go off the grid

A local school system is looking to cut grid electricity costs at one of its elementary schools to zero.

Sullivan County’s Ketron Elementary School in the Bloomingdale community soon may become energy self-sufficient, thanks to solar power coupled with its existing geothermal heating and cooling system.

“If we add solar to that, it’s about to become utilities neutral for us,” Director of Schools Jubal Yennie said.

Based on preliminary figures, the proposal and its local and grant funding of more than $500,000 combined would have a simple payback of 17.5 years into an expected 30-year life of the system.

Kingsport’s Dobyns-Bennett High School has solar cells atop the school that provide some lighting, and 20 Hawkins County schools have solar panels, but none of those provide all the electricity to operate a school building. In Hawkins, projected revenue from selling solar power over 20 years is $875,000.

At Ketron, a former middle and high school, the solar array would be built on the roof of the school.

The county’s Board of Education Monday night voted 6-0 with one absent to approve applying for a Clean Tennessee Energy grant to fund almost half the cost of the Ketron Elementary Solar PV (photovoltaic) Pilot Project.

“This proposed project would install a 175 kilowatt solar photovoltaic electrical power generation system at Ketron Elementary School,” according to a summary provided to the BOE before its vote.

Ketron Principal Wendell Smith said Tuesday that details are still being worked out but that he thinks maybe in the summer, when school is not in session, the solar array might be able to put electricity back on the grid, making more power than the building needs.

Ketron has a curriculum focused on science, technology, engineering and math.

“The solar PV system would provide for firsthand educational opportunities for students attending Ketron Elementary concerning clean renewable power and generate interest in the community as it operates and provides electrical power for the local school building,” the summary states.

Ketron students would be able to view the power generation first and “see the results of having the clean renewable power generation installed at their school shown via dashboards and kiosks.”

“It will also provide educational opportunities for all of the Sullivan County schools utilizing real time information on its performance via the Internet,” according to the summary.

The board approved applying for a $250,000 grant and will match that amount with $279,268 of funding from its general fund minus $5,000 of in-kind contributions.

The system “will provide savings of approximately $15,945 in the first year and that amount or more (based upon future rates for the purchase of electricity) would be saved each year for the 30-year life expectancy of the system,” according to the document.

The system would produce about 237,615 kilowatt hours of electrical power annually to be used by Ketron “and eliminate the purchase of that power from American Electric Power (AEP) as well as eliminate the need for AEP to produce that power with fuel fired generation.”

If the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation grant is won and the school board approves funding, the project would be producing power by January 2016, according to the summary. Preliminary work such as site selection, preliminary engineering and sizing, budgeting and verification of AEP’s net metering tariff have already been done, according to the summary.

The project also would be a model for future solar PV projects in Sullivan County as well as the rest of the state, and it would be designed to be readily expandable to produce more power in the future with an expansion of solar collector panels, the summary states.

The project would use the most current technology in solar power generation with use of the highest efficiency solar panels and DC to AC inverters, according to the document.

Final grant approval is expected in July, with finalization of the matching portions to follow. In September, bidding, selection and contracting with a construction subcontractor or subcontractors would be done.

Implementation, equipment ordering, permitting and preliminary construction work would come in October, with construction to be complete and the system started up in January 2016.

In February 2016, the educational component would be finalized and educators trained for it.

The Environmental Protection Agency indicates the 237,615 kilowatt hours of solar power, compared to fossil fuel electricity generation, would cut 1,252 pounds of sulfer dioxide, 350 pounds of nitrogen oxides and 164 metric tons of carbon dioxide.

This entry was posted on Monday, February 16th, 2015 at 7:07 pm. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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