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North Kitsap schools may expand use of solar power

Bret Ortlieb of Fredrickson Electric adjusts a solar module on the roof of the Poulsbo Middle School gymnasium Feb. 4.  - Kipp Robertson/Staff Photo
Bret Ortlieb of Fredrickson Electric adjusts a solar module on the roof of the Poulsbo Middle School gymnasium Feb. 4.
— image credit: Kipp Robertson/Staff Photo

POULSBO — While solar modules on the roof of the Poulsbo Middle School gymnasium are being installed, expansion plans for renewable energy in the North Kitsap School District are already under way.

"We have a limited amount of time for this funding," said David Dumpert, director of facility maintenance, operations and capital programs.

The funding for the district to expand its renewable energy, originally $100,000, was reduced to $7,500. "We don't want to lose that window of opportunity," he said.

Dumpert recently began writing proposals for two more solar module projects, which he will present to the school board in the next two months, he said.

The project on the middle school gymnasium, expected to be finished in less than two months, is the largest school solar energy project in Washington. Once completed, about 7,500 square feet of the gymnasium roof will be covered in solar modules, which will generate about 72,000 kilowatt-hours. The energy generated could light about four and a half homes per year, Washington Solar Incentives president Rick Lander said.

Solar Incentives, located in downtown Poulsbo, is the developer of the solar energy system being installed at the middle school.

"It has really kept me alive," Lander said of the system. "Our electrician has hired someone instead of laying someone off."

Though the modules are located on school property, they will not belong to the district for 10 years. A group of 16 investors provided $670,000 for the project and will maintain ownership until 2020. Under the federal stimulus act, 30 percent of the cost was covered by grant and tax credits.

Until the district gains control of the system, it will pay the investors for the power the school uses at a rate of about 10 cents per kilowatt-hour. Investors gain energy incentives for the energy system — receiving what could be a base rate of $1.08 per kilowatt-hour. However, the district will receive $2,210 per year for leasing the roofing space.

"The savings come from the lease," Dumpert said. "We pay Puget Sound Electric 10 cents an hour anyway."

The modules are expected to last about 30 years, Lander said. During that time, maintenance will be limited to spraying the modules off occasionally, he said.

Once the district owns the system, it could save about $7,500 per year in energy costs at current rates. However, the cost of electricity are expected to rise up to 30 percent in the next 20 years, which will increase those savings, Lander said.

Based on average energy use in the district for the past two years, the solar panels will save 0.6 percent of total energy costs. If two more systems are installed, it could save the district about 1.6 percent, said Dumpert.

Besides the cost incentives, the district also plans to use the solar modules for education purposes. Two North Kitsap High School students are already using it as the subject of their senior project, and students from NK and Kingston High School will be able to monitor the energy intake via computers at school.

Though other schools in Washington do not have the same size of renewable energy systems, the North Kitsap School District is not the first to incorporate it into its curricula.

The solar panels at Port Townsend High School, for example, are used for community projects, said Port Townsend teacher Lois Sherwood.

A dedication ceremony will be held at the middle school in March.

The amount of money the district could save annually from the solar array has been corrected from an earlier version.

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