School board: solar panels fine, but stay off of roofs

Solar panels like this could soon be providing energy to Tracy schools. (Image by Ideal Energies)

By Per Peterson

School board members of District No. 2904 aren’t against solar energy in theory — just don’t plan on putting any solar panels on the roof of a school here.
That was the clear message a roof-fatigued board sent to Ideal Energies at Monday evening’s school board meeting after the company made a formal pitch to implement two 40-kilowatt systems and three 20-kilowatt units to be used between the two schools and Kids World.
The initial proposal would put solar panels on the gymnasium roof of the high school. It’s that part of the plan that didn’t sit well with the board.
“I won’t ever vote for something that goes on a roof,” said board member Ben Ludeman. “I was on the building committee when we had all the roof disasters and I guess you won’t get a vote for me to put these on a roof, no matter what anybody tells me. We’re in southwest Minnesota, really windy country, what if one blows over, it hits the roof — you have other insurance risks.
Ludeman took his opposition to the plan a step further, saying he called the solar panels, if mounted on the ground, an eye sore.
“I don’t like to look at them,” he said. “That’s just a personal preference.”
Board member Matt Surprenant shared Ludeman’s feelings about a roof-mounted system.
“I guess from the start I haven’t been too crazy about putting it on the roof, either, because there are too many unknowns,” he said. “I’m not opposed to putting them on the ground myself. If we can stick them somewhere where they’re not tying up good land, I guess I’m not opposed to that.”
That said, the board — on a 3-2 vote — did approve moving forward with a comprehensive solar array project that would eventually serve all three buildings. Voting in favor of the project were Sheila Siebenhaler-Holland, Jody Bauer and Surprenant. Voting against moving ahead with the project were Ludeman and Nikki Swanson.
Board member Jay Fultz was not at Monday’s meeting.
Under the proposal, which is made possible through Minnesota’s solar incentive programs — the Minnesota Department of Commerce’s Made in Minnesota Lottery and Excel Energy’s Solar Rewards Program — Tracy Area Public Schools would own the solar arrays after installation. TAPS would keep 25% of energy savings and Ideal Energies would keep 75% for the first 12 years. After those 12 years, all of the energy savings would belong to TAPS. The Made in Minnesota Lottery rebates run out this year.
Although there would be no up-front installation cost to the district, TAPS would have to carry insurance on the panels to the tune of $203 per year, TAPS Supt. Chad Anderson said.
The savings estimate would be about $25,000 per year after 12 years.

For more on this article, see this week’s Headlight-Herald.