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Solar panels to be installed on Harford County school roofs expected to save up to $1.8 million over 25 years

Solar panels will be installed at four schools by the end of 2020, estimated to save the Harford school system $1.5 million to $1.8 million under a 25-year agreement with Constellation Energy. Six schools are already solar electric sites, including Patterson Mill Middle/High.
Solar panels will be installed at four schools by the end of 2020, estimated to save the Harford school system $1.5 million to $1.8 million under a 25-year agreement with Constellation Energy. Six schools are already solar electric sites, including Patterson Mill Middle/High. (Courtesy Harford Public Schools / Baltimore Sun)

Solar panels will be placed on roofs of four schools in 2020 as part of a partnership between Harford County Public Schools and Constellation Energy.

More than 6,500 panels will be distributed among the schools, expected to save the school system $1.5 million to $1.8 million over the 25-year contract, which was unanimously approved Monday by the Harford County Board of Education.

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“This is a good example of the school system looking to be as responsible as possible with taxpayer funds,” Superintendent Sean Bulson said.

The panels will be placed on roofs at Joppatown High, Aberdeen Middle, Havre de Grace Middle/High and Hickory Elementary.

Six schools - Aberdeen High, Bel Air High, Edgewood High and Fallston High, Patterson Mill Middle/High and Magnolia Middle - are already solar electric sites. Panels were installed at those schools in 2010, according to Chris Morton, supervisor of planning and construction for the school system.

All of the schools where the new panels will be installed either have new roofs or will soon. Joppatowne High, where the roof was replaced two years ago, is set to undergo a limited renovation this year. The new roof at Aberdeen Middle was just recently finished and the roof at Hickory Elementary will be replaced by the end of summer.

The new Havre de Grace school is being built to accommodate solar panels and because it’s under construction, Constellation can begin installing them as work progresses.

“The predominant factor is the age of the roof. You don’t want to put panels on a roof that could be replaced [soon],” said Andrew Cassilly, the manager of innovative partnerships for the school system.

Cassilly, the former resource conservation manager who implemented the initial solar sites, is leaving the school system to become the senior adviser to Gov. Larry Hogan, which also requires him to resign as a Maryland state delegate.

Constellation will design and build the solar electric systems at the four schools, maintain the system and sell the power to Harford County Public Schools, Rick Kilbourne, senior manager of solar business development for Constellation, said.

“Essentially we’re leasing our roof space,” Morton told board members.

The school system, which pays no distribution charges, will buy the electricity produced by the panels at an agreed upon rate, Kilbourne said.

At the end of the 25-year contract, the school system can purchase the system or extend the contract for two additional five-year terms at an agreed upon rate. At 25 years, the panels should still be producing 84 to 85 percent of the power they were generating when they were installed, Kilbourne said.

Constellation benefits because, as a large company, it receives a 30 percent federal investment tax credit for total green construction costs, Kilbourne said. It also generates solar renewable energy credits.

“It greens up our portfolio,” Kilbourne said. “We can continue to focus on renewable energy in the local community.”

As for the school system, the solar sites help improve operational efficiencies, reduce its use of non-renewable energy and costs, reduces environmental impacts, aligns with curriculum and operations, and promotes Harford schools as an environmental leader, Cassilly said.

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It also provides educational opportunities for students, who can log into the solar portal to get data on the energy produced, compare seasons and years, and determine and track date trends, he said.

“We can integrate it with what we’re teaching in the curriculum,” Cassilly said. “We’re teaching what we preach.”

Since the panels were installed at the six schools during the first phase, the school system has saved about $95,000, Cassilly said. The school system pays 7.5 cents per kilowatt hour under the Power Purchasing Agreement rather than 10 cents per kilowatt hour it would pay to BGE.

In the second phase, electricity will cost 10 cents per kilowatt hour the first year without the panels and 8 cents per kilowatt hour with them. The first five years the school system is expected to save $80,000 to $100,000, and $1.5 million to $1.8 million over the 25 years of the contract.

“This is a fantastic idea,” student board member Christian Walker said “This is an an example of the school system being a good steward of the resources available to them in trying to find savings.”

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