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Could all Charlotte schools really run on just solar power?

Solar panels at an O2 Energies solar farm near Biscoe in Montgomery County on Tuesday, July 15, 2014. The solar farm contains 21,000 solar panels measuring 2 feet by 5 feet.
Solar panels at an O2 Energies solar farm near Biscoe in Montgomery County on Tuesday, July 15, 2014. The solar farm contains 21,000 solar panels measuring 2 feet by 5 feet. dtfoster@charlotteobserver.com

Imagine every Charlotte-Mecklenburg School running on solar power. Is it even possible? Repower Our Schools says yes.

Repower Our Schools, a coalition of parents, teachers and students, formed a year ago and commissioned a study of solar power at CMS and Durham’s public schools by the Clean Energy Technology Center at N.C. State University. The results were announced at an event uptown Wednesday.

[Related: What the Truck? Repower Our Schools.]

What the study found:

– CMS spends $18 million a year on electricity, nearly all of it generated by nuclear power and fossil fuels.

– Solar arrays on rooftops and in parking lots could meet all of CMS’ energy needs.

– Grid-connected solar arrays could save CMS $42 million over 25 years through a financing arrangement between schools and investors. (Essentially, the investor would claim solar tax credits to lower the cost of the project, then after about seven years the partnership would flip and the school would get sole ownership. Power sold back to a utility brings in revenue.)

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Why hasn’t this already happened?

Too expensive in the past. There was an effort in 2009 to build a utility scale solar installation, but high costs stalled it.

CMS is using some solar power, though. The district owns three small solar arrays and many schools have earned the federal Energy Star certification for energy efficiency.

So what’s next?

CMS has the report and they’ll give it a look, see if/how they want to move forward.

“We’re eagerly awaiting what they think,” said Michael Zytkow, a field organizer for Greenpeace North Carolina.

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Zytkow

“We’ll have to determine how (solar) fits into our long-term strategy and what makes sense,” said Phil Berman, executive director of building services for CMS.

C5’s take

Like it or not, an argument based around saving money seems a lot more powerful than one just about helping the environment.

Photo: David T. Foster III/Charlotte Observer; Bruce Henderson/Charlotte Observer

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