New Penta solar field will save $1.7 million over 30 years

By Marie Thomas-Baird -

PERRYSBURG – Penta Career Center is adding a 3,100-panel solar field that will supply 58% of its power needs.

Jessica Tyler, solar business development manager with Gem Energy, was at Wednesday’s board meeting to explain the plan.

She said the panels will save the district $1.7 million in 30 years. There is no cost to Penta.

The project is in collaboration between Penta, Gem Energy and First Solar. In fact, the panels used will be First Solar’s top-of-the-line Series 6, which are not available to other customers, Tyler said.

“The cool thing about this project is First Solar said ‘we’re going to allocate these panels to a project locally.’ No one else can get their hands on these panels. We’ve tried for other projects,” she said.

The fixed-tilt panels will be placed in the southern most corner of the campus, abutting Interstate 75 to maximize visibility. The 1.27-megawatt field will be on six to seven acres.

A site farther north was considered but would have been hampered by shade, said Penta Superintendent Ron Matter.

With a fixed-tilt system, the panels will not move with the sun, Tyler said, adding that tracking arrays don’t always work well in colder climates.

Tyler’s goal “is to always keep the solar production below your actual projected use. We don’t want to produce more energy than what the facility is going to use in a 12-month calendar.”

According to Tyler, Penta currently uses 3 million kilowatt hours of power annually. This field will supply the school with 1.7 million kilowatts, or 58%, with completion set for spring.

Penta currently pays 10 cents per kilowatt hour; with the solar panels, that cost will drop 7.4 cents, Tyler said.

Board member Kathy Limes asked how many homes could be powered with this array.

An average house uses about 12,000 kilowatt hours a year, Tyler said. This project will produce 1.7 million kilowatt hours, so the total number of homes that could be powered is about 142.

That question can be added into classroom curriculum, Matter said.

Tyler said the system will allow remote monitoring, so any classroom with an internet connection can pull up the output data for project-based learning.

The panels will be third-party owned and maintained under a power purchase agreement. This will provide the backers with a 30% tax credit as well as credits for depreciation for the $1.87 million project.

At the end of the 20-year agreement, Penta can choose to pay the full-market value of the system, extend its contract, or stop the project and convert the property back to the way it was.

For Penta, it is a win-win proposition: there is zero cost upfront, the study of solar power can be included in the curriculum, it will reduce expenses, and offer Penta a competitive advantage in attracting students, Matter said.

“In a nutshell, there is $1.7 million in savings over 30 years, zero cash out and net cash positive every year, and no assumption of any responsibility of maintenance of the site until after we take ownership,” he said.

The project also will show Penta as a high-tech facility trying to lower its carbon footprint, Matter added.

“It dovetails so nicely with what you’re doing here on campus,” Tyler said, alluding to the inclusion of classroom instruction.

According to Matter, an industrial automation system program will be added in the 2020-21 school year but will be offered as an elective this year.

“That would be a great training opportunity for students who are interested in going to work for First Solar,” he said.

He added that Penta is considering adding a certified technician class at its workforce training facility in Bowling Green that would fit nicely with what skills First Solar is looking for.

He said Penta gets companies coming in all the time offering deals.

“When Jessica contacted us, the stars aligned with Gem and then with First Solar,” he said.

Also at the meeting, the board:

• Heard Director Jeff Kurtz report initial enrollment for the fall is 1,397, a slight increase, but he expects to lose some of those students who choose to stay in their home school.

• Learned of a new Drug Free Club, which had more than 200 students voluntarily sign up and be drug tested that same day.

“We want this to be something students want to be a part of,” Matter said.

By Marie Thomas-Baird