SALT LAKE CITY — A central Utah school district is the recipient of a gift that will keep on giving for as long as the sun keeps shining.
Rocky Mountain Power Tuesday presented North Sanpete Middle School with a check for $576,224 to launch the largest Blue Sky renewable energy project in over a decade. The project includes a 206-kilowatt solar array that will generate approximately 80 percent of the school’s energy, a news release stated.
The project also includes an electric vehicle charging station and a battery energy storage system that will be charged using excess solar power during the day as it helps meet the school’s energy needs even on cloudy days, explained O’Dee Hansen, principal at North Sanpete Middle School in Moroni.
"It’s going to be providing (daily) power to the school, and be used as an emergency backup for freezers and (refrigerators) in the immediate area," he said. Additionally, the project will provide "immeasurable" educational lessons about renewable energy technology and potential careers for students that attend the school in the years ahead, he added.
“This development is not only an energy cost-savings measure, but it incorporates technology as part of the STEM and career and technical education opportunities for our students,” North Sanpete Superintendent Sam Ray said. “This project moves our students to the cutting edge of technology and renewable energy.”
He said the district is working with Salt Lake Community College to develop a program to train students about careers in green energy, including solar installation.
"So they can go out into the industry right out of high school and get a good job in the (renewable energy) field," Ray said. "We’re trying to have this project leverage into jobs for our kids."
The project can become a multi-faceted advantage for students in the district who can learn about the technology that will provide energy in the future, he said. Money saved through lower energy usage will be used to help pay off the cost of the project over time, he noted.
"It makes it possible for us to get new (energy-efficient) boilers," Ray said. "Now we have state-of-the-art, computer-controlled controls on these buildings that our maintenance guys can (operate) from their cellphones or tablets anywhere in the world where they have internet. They can adjust the system or fix any of the control issues on all of the equipment online."
The project is guaranteed to provide certain milestone savings each year of operation. However, if those savings are not met, the district is refunded the difference annually, he said.
That includes the solar array, control systems, the new boilers and new LED light bulbs that have been installed throughout the middle school and other district buildings, he said. The upgrades should pay dividends for years to come, he added.
"We’re going to have warm buildings in the winter. They’re going to be well-lit and we’re going to have a system that we can teach the kids about jobs of the future," Ray said.
Blue Sky customers provided the school with the grant to make the project possible, said Tiffany Erickson, spokeswoman for Rocky Mountain Power. The funds also enabled a qualified zone academy bond, a federal financial instrument that allowed for additional energy-saving measures, she added.
The school is leading the way locally in renewable energy while being the first Blue Sky project to incorporate a battery storage element, she noted.
The North Sanpete District has been championing renewable energy and technology for years, she said, and a few schools already have some small solar panels. The middle school and high school have extracurricular “Greenpower” teams where students work on electric cars for sanctioned competitions, Erickson said.
“This is an exciting project that will provide educational value for students and the community about how the latest technology can be used to promote clean energy,” said Bill Comeau, Rocky Mountain Power’s director of customer innovation. “We are grateful to Blue Sky customers who make innovative projects like this possible in our communities.”
Since 2006, Blue Sky customers have voluntarily supported wind and solar energy generation in the region, Erickson said. The program has provided more than $10 million in funding to community-based renewable energy projects, she said.
“We’re excited to work with the North Sanpete School District and Rocky Mountain Power to help address the district’s energy efficiency needs, while also playing a part in the district’s sustainable education and career development program,” said Craig Banaszewski, zone vice president for Siemens Building Technologies Division — the contractor for the project.