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School District Seeking Grants for High School Project Solar Panels

by on August 14, 2014 6:40 AM

The State College Area School District is applying for grants that would help fund installing solar panels as part of the high school project.

Ed Poprik, the district’s director of physical plant, says solar panels “have been on the district’s radar for a long time.” Any time the district has a conversation about sustainability and building design for a construction project, the topic of solar panels invariably comes up.

“The issue we have with solar right now is that the reality of solar energy, at least here in central Pennsylvania, is not economically feasible,” Poprik says.

High installation costs and relatively inexpensive electricity mean that solar panels often have a fairly low return on investment, making installing them a “cost negative process.” Without further study, Poprik says its difficult to estimate how much money or energy the panels might save the district per year.

In order to offset the cost of installation, the district is applying for grant money from the Pennsylvania Economic Development Association (PEDA), which Poprik says has ten million dollars set aside to distribute in amounts up to $500,000 to organizations developing renewable energy resources in the commonwealth.

SCASD Business Administrator Randy Brown says the district’s interest in solar panels stems from a larger sustainability initiative. The district has a policy that all newly-constructed buildings will be Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design-certified.

LEED certification represents a dedication to green initiatives and sustainability, something Brown says the district holds in high regard.

“We already have a lot of points towards certification with the high school project,” Brown says. “We should attain silver level certification very easily, and may even be able to reach platinum or gold.”

Poprik says he recently attended a workshop hosted by PEDA to learn more about the “pretty extensive” grant application. In addition to the school district, various municipalities, school districts and other organizations from across Pennsylvania were in attendance.

While the district may face competition from across the state for the grant money, Poprik hopes the educational value of the solar panels will weigh in their favor. He says if solar panels were installed on the high school, they would offer students a first-hand lesson on conservation and solar energy.

Poprik says the 53-page application is due by August 15. In the meantime, he says the district is “trying to scramble to pull some of this information together.”

“We have to do some calculations on what we’d need, energy wise,” Poprik says. “We’re working feverishly to get our ideas together, run costs and see what our best effort might look like.”

Brown says while the potential grant money is important to installing solar panels, the district may still consider pursuing the panels if they are not awarded the PEDA grant.

“If we don’t receive the grant money, then the district will step back and reevaluate,” Brown says. “We’re always looking for a return on investment. Something like this may cost extra money upfront, but it may have a return that helps in the long run.”

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Michael Martin Garrett is a reporter and editor for who covers local government, the courts, the arts and writes the Keeping the Faith column. He's a Penn State alumnus, a published poet and the bassist in a local indie rock band.
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