Greene County

Schools save with solar power, conservation

Solar saving schools money

GREENE COUNTY, Tenn. - It's just hard to beat a sunny day, especially in the middle of winter. No matter how cold it is, you can feel the warmth and the power of the sun.

The Greene County, Tennessee school system can feel that power in the form of money. They have solar panel systems in place at several schools, and more could be on the way.

Beautiful blue skies overlook the Chuckey Doak High School soccer field. It's a good day for soccer, but an even better day for the school's solar panel system just in back of the field.

At nearby Doak Elementary, their 50-kilowatt system is working at maximum capacity on this sunny day.

The panels at each school are just a part of a system-wide energy program. "We get credits on our utility bills, and we actually get a flat annual fee from the investors for this system. Most of that money is forwarded to the investor to pay for the system, but we get a flat annual fee for these," school system energy specialist Steve Tipton says.

So how much money is this one system making for the investor, Terrashares, at this one location? "50 kilowatts. It provides probably about $800 to $1,000 worth of electricity a month," Tipton said.

The investors then sell the electricity back to the Tennessee Valley Authority.

Add what the school system makes from these systems with conservation, and you come up with significant savings on energy costs. "With the solar program we get about $9,000 a year. With our [entire] energy conservation program, [we've saved] $650,000 since June 2012," Tipton says.

That's more money for education and less spent on electricity; it's also an excellent way for students to learn about the power of the sun and the effect of turning off a switch. "That's a good culture to build into our students, and in our schools -- the importance of conservation, and what you can do in this area with a system like this," Tipton said.

Three more schools are currently in line for solar systems, but Tipton knows where the real savings are. "The cheapest kilowatt hour is the one you don't use. That's our main goal, to try to reduce our consumption," he said.

Here's another fact -- 10 Greene County Schools are in the top 200 in the Energy Star national "green building" competition to find the most energy-efficient buildings.

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