School districts embrace going green

August 24, 2009
By: MARK ZIMMARO Burlington County Times

Several local schools will have a new look this year as more districts embrace the concept of going green.

Northern Burlington Regional and Palmyra are the latest to conserve natural energy by installing solar panels on the roofs of their buildings, while other districts continue to make changes to cut utility costs by becoming more environmentally friendly.
Northern Burlington High School in Mansfield is in the process of installing solar panels as part of a project voters approved in April.

According to district Superintendent James Sarruda, the high school needed a new roof and the grants and energy rebates the district obtained will help pay for the project.

The $3.8 million project will initially cost the average taxpayer in the district $3.30 a year, which equates to about one-hundredth of a cent per $100 of assessed property value. But, Sarruda said, the project will be paid for after three years - and residents will begin seeing savings for the rest of the 25-year life of the panels. The project also includes two heating units for the media center and a fire alarm system for both the middle and high school buildings.

According to the proposal, the district took full advantage by cashing in on grants offered by the state. It received a school construction grant award of $1,069,227; debt service aid of $710,492; and a Community Office for Resource Efficiency rebate of $486,772. The district also will save an estimated $442,935 in utilities and could earn an estimated $1,402,635 by selling solar renewable energy credits back to energy suppliers over 15 years, officials said.

In Palmyra, the district is placing solar panels on the roof of the Charles Street School, at a cost of $350,000 for the panels and for the installation of an energy conversion system, with state funding covering half the cost. Garrison Architects of Mt. Laurel completed the design and applied for the Grant.

A bond approved by voters in December to help finance the project will cost the owner of a house assessed at the borough average of $100,000 an extra $186 in property taxes each year.

According to estimates from project developers, the school building's electric bill will be cut by 8 percent each year. Over a 25-year period, the district expects to save $420,000 in energy.

Solar panels are priorities for many school districts and have received the support of many voters throughout the state. State rebates totaling $28 million partially funded projects in 33 districts last year, according to the New Jersey School Boards Association.

In November, eight districts held referendums requesting funding for solar panel-related projects. Six, including Palmyra, approved it. One of the two that could not gain voter approval was Lumberton, which proposed adding solar panels to the roofs of its four school buildings.

The $15 million plan was shot down by voters in December despite its potential to save taxpayers money over the life of the panels.

During the April school elections, voters approved all four South Jersey projects involving solar panels. Along with Northern Burlington, Clearview Regional in Gloucester County passed a $1.3 million project for solar panels on its middle school; Mainland in Atlantic County passed a $10.6 million project for a new roof with panels; and Galloway Township, also in Atlantic County, approved a $2.3 million plan to install a solar energy system at its middle school.


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