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    District looks into solar energy

    January 25, 2023 - Bob Baker


      The Tunkhannock Area school board and public got a first look Thursday night at a possible solar project which could bring the renewal energy into becoming a significant part of the district's electricity grid.

      For around 50 minutes of a more than 2-hour school board meeting Ron Tomalis and Doug Neidich, principals with GreenWorks Development of Mechanicsburg, the largest commercial solar developer in Pennsylvania, gave a proposal which almost sounded too irresistible to refuse. They (GWD) would oversee the development of the program with Solar Renewable Energy LLC of Harrisburg.

      Superintendent Paul Dougherty said the district's COO Charles Suppon had been working closely with the men from GWD about "the potential of installation of some solar panels on our properties to help offset the cost of electricity."

      Tomalis shared a visual graphic which showed how Penelec, the district's primary supplier of electricity had increased its prices by 117 percent from January 2020 to January 2022.

      Dougherty said, "this option seemed like a creative way to offset costs of electricity, and maybe generate some revenue for us additionally. We're always looking for innovative ways to really save some money."

      Tomalis said, "It's great to have this conversation after another one you just had about ways to spend money or not. We're here today to talk to you about a solar project that won't cost the district anything in up-front money."

      "We actually structure these things as 40-year annuities," Tomalis said. "These are projects that will reduce your electricity costs significantly."

      The guts of the solar project as Tomalis explained it was that a contract:

      Could offset 98 percent of the districts electricity use;Includes a $1 million roof replacement for the primary center (former Roslund School)Includes a 9.4 cents per kilowatt hour electricity cost, providing a net cash flow for years 1-5 of $160,000 a year; and in years 6-40, more than $370,000 year with a cumulative net cash flow over 40 years of more than $17.6 million.Some of the advantages were that there was no up-front cash investment; the system purchase in year six can be 100% financed — no cash required; and a 40-year average cost of solar-generated electricity of 5 cents per kilowatt hour

      During the presentation, Tomalis shared examples of current solar projects at school districts his company now has underway at Tamaqua Area, Pottsville Area, Midd-West (in Middleburg), and Central Columbia.

      His presentation also suggested by building the number of megawatts that would be generated in the Tunkhannock Area per site:

      High School: 1.69 roof; 0.4 groundSTEM Academy: 0.22 roofIntermediate Center: 0.68 roofPrimary Center: 0.58 roof; 1.3 groundMehoopany: 0.17 ground

      Tomalis suggested as a reference point, the 1.3 MW ground at the primary center would be about 3.5 acres.

      After about 45 minutes into the presentation, Board president Holly Arnold said, "I think this might need to be moved into a building and grounds meeting unless we want to be here until 10:30 tonight."

      Board member John Burke, seemed a little stymied by it all, and said, "I don't even know what to ask."

      He added, "I'm an electrical engineer by background. I mean I don't understand energy credits. We're going to need to do a ton of work to figure out and understand everything you just said. What are the risks, what are the pitfalls, what does a contract look like? What are the scenarios if energy goes up or down? You have all that... This is a humongous undertaking for us. I really appreciate your bringing it to the board because if you provide a way to save a ton of money, that's a win-win for us."

      Dougherty said he completely understood the dilemma facing the board, "because the first time you look at it, it really blows you away."

      He added that the board was likely a very long way from making a decision on this, "but let's just suppose they say yes, how long would it be before we could see a set of solar panels."

      Tomalis said he expected about a year. It would take about six months to get through the permitting process, and about six months to get the arrays constructed."

      He added, "It would be a year from the time you signed the contract to the time you turned the system on."


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