Community

Poulsbo Middle School could be solar powered in 2010-11

POULSBO — Solar power could be coming to the North Kitsap School District as early as the 2010-11 school year.

The district is in talks with two solar energy companies to install a 75-kilowatt solar array on the roof of Poulsbo Middle School’s gym.

“It’s a perfect place to put one,” Dave Dumpert, the district’s director of maintenance and facilities, said of the roof, which has no shade nearby.

If the district moves forward with the installation, Silicon Energy, a solar panel manufacturer based in Arlington, would build and install about 400 panels at the school as early as next fall. Dumpert said the array would cover about 60-65 percent of the gym roof. Each panel weighs about 62 pounds. Dumpert said another reason the gym roof is an ideal spot for the panels is that it is strong enough to withstand the extra weight.

“We don’t want to have to do too much structural support changes inside just to put the solar array up there,” he said.

The school district is interested in solar power not only for the sake of “going green,” but to save a little green of its own.

“If we can save money, that’s what we’re after,” Dumpert said. “Plus, it’s an environmentally friendly project.”

The school’s solar array would be considered a community solar project, because it would be set up on publicly owned property. Washington State passed legislation last year that allows owners of community solar projects to receive $1.08 for every kilowatt-hour of energy produced by solar arrays built in the state, until 2020.

The district is working with Washington Solar Incentives, a “community solar project developer” based in downtown Poulsbo, to fund the project. Solar Incentives co-founder Rick Lander said the cost of installing the 75-kilowatt system would be about $600,000, which would be paid by a group of at least 15 investors. The investors would lease the gym’s roof space from the district for about $6,000 a year, and would technically own the solar array until 2020.

Because the investors would be leasing the roof space from the district, they would also receive the government benefits, which will allow them to recuperate their expenses and pay the lease.

After 2020, the lease would end along with the government paybacks, and the district would continue to use the array for about another 20 years. Dumpert said the district’s attorneys are currently looking at Solar Incentives’ investment proposal and hammering out the finer points.

“We’re trying to get clarification of who takes possession of the power and who pays who,” he said. “It sounds like a really good deal, but we need to make sure we cross the ‘t’s and dot the ‘i’s.

The Bainbridge Island School District was the first in Kitsap to use solar energy. Sonoji Sakai Intermediate School installed a 5.1-kilowatt array in November 2008. School principal Jim Corsetti said the biggest obstacle his district faced in setting up the system was convincing skeptical islanders of the viability of solar power in the cloudy Northwest. He and Lander compare Washington state to Germany, which sits near the same latitude, has a cloudy climate and yet generates more than half of the world’s solar electricity.

“Even on those overcast days, quite a bit of energy is generated,” Corsetti said. “It’s the cold, clear days that the energy generated just spikes.”

Corsetti said the system’s benefits go beyond saving money and the environment.

“There’s certainly the education component,” he said.

Sakai’s array came with an interactive kiosk set up in the library that keeps data on the system’s energy output and other functions. The school’s science teachers have used it as a teaching tool.

Dumpert said the district would like to display data from the Poulsbo array on its Web site so students and community members could see how the setup is working and learn from it.

“We’re trying to make sure we have an educational component for this,” Dumpert said.

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