Indiana Senior High totem sign 01

The Indiana Area School District is looking to solar power to lighten the load on the electric bills for the district.

In a special session Wednesday, the district board of directors approved an agreement with an eastern Pennsylvania solar power specialist for possible installation of power-generating solar photovoltaic arrays at as many as seven school district properties.

The actual solar panel setup would come during the second part of the two-phase agreement.

The deal calls for Bright Eye Solar LLC of Lancaster to immediately prepare a solar project plan on behalf of the district and file for grant or loan funds from the Pennsylvania Solar Energy Program to pay for the installation.

Board President Walter Schroth said that waiting until the school board’s regular monthly meeting on Monday to act on the proposal would not allow enough time for Bright Eye Solar to meet the Jan. 19 grant application deadline set by the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development.

The district will pay $3,500 for the company to run the application through Harrisburg.

The second phase would begin if the state approves enough grant or loan money to finance the project.

Bright Eye Solar would engineer the project and write the bid specifications at a cost of $14,850 for a single photovoltaic array. Designs for any additional solar panels would cost $7,895 each.

According to the agreement, Bright Eye Solar also would enter the bidding to supply and install the solar power-generating fixtures.

The school board approved the agreement on a 7 to 1 vote. Schroth and board members John Barbor, Barbara Barker, Julia Trimarchi Cuccaro, Tom Harley, Terry Kerr and Ute Lowery were in favor. Doug Steve voted no; Tamara Leeper was absent.

Steve said the district staff should file the grant application at no cost, then seek competitive prices for engineering services. He also questioned whether roof-mounted generating equipment would void any warranty on roofs that were replaced in recent years.

Superintendent Dale Kirsch said the district doesn’t have the expertise to complete the grant application before the deadline.

Schroth said the district had considered solar power panels about five years ago while planning the districtwide energy efficiency improvement initiative commonly called the “ESCO” project. He said technological improvements since then have reduced the costs of solar generation equipment.

In about one-half hour of debate before taking a vote, directors discussed the district’s options to back out of the agreement if the board would be dissatisfied with the amount of money offered in any state grant or loan. Discussion also centered on the return on investment based on the efficiency of a solar power system, and whether the district could potentially generate surplus power that could be sold to an electric company.

The district’s estimated annual electricity cost is about $350,000.

The contract identifies all six school buildings plus the bus garage along East Pike as potential sites for solar photovoltaic arrays.

Staff writer/Web Editor, The Indiana (Pa.) Gazette

Staff Writer/Web Editor

Chauncey Ross represents the Gazette at the Indiana Area and Homer-Center school boards and White Township, Center Township, Homer City and Burrell Township, and is something of an Open Records, Right to Know and Sunshine Law advocate in the newsroom.