Huntley Community School District 158 soon will have three of the largest solar panel installations at Illinois public schools.
The district is partnering with California-based Forefront Power to install solar panels with 5.6 megawatts of photovoltaic capacity across its campuses in Algonquin, Huntley and Lake in the Hills. The ground-mounted installations are expected to save the district $4.2 million over 20 years while offsetting 12.3 million pounds of carbon emissions, officials said.
“We have open land on all three of our campuses. We are able to put that to good use with these projects,” District 158 spokesman Dan Armstrong said.
Nationwide, K-12 schools and higher education institutions spend a combined $14 billion on utility costs annually, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.
District 158 pays roughly 11 cents per kilowatt-hour for electricity, and its yearly energy cost is more than $1 million.
Roughly 20 acres will be devoted to the solar arrays. Drawing power from the installations, officials anticipate between 10 percent and 30 percent in savings on energy costs.
The district has invested in a number of energy-efficient projects, including lighting retrofits and green designs for the Huntley High School addition and renovation project completed last year. It has resulted in annual savings of more than $667,000 on energy costs.
Seven of its buildings are certified by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s ENERGY STAR program. On average, ENERGY STAR-certified buildings use 35 percent less energy, cause 35 percent fewer greenhouse gas emissions, and are less expensive to operate.
“On-site solar energy is a natural progression from our energy-efficiency projects and conservation efforts,” Superintendent Scott Rowe said. “Plus, we save money in the process.”
Officials selected Forefront Power through a competitive bidding process. Under a power purchasing agreement, District 158 won’t have to pay any upfront costs for solar grid installation.
The company will design, permit, finance, install and maintain the solar installations for the 20-year term. The project is estimated to cost about $8 million.
District 158 would then pay for the electricity generated by the system at a lower price than its existing utility rate, said David Ganske, Forefront Power director of marketing.
“We recover those costs through a per kilowatt-hour rate over the 20-year term,” Ganske said. “All operations and maintenance is included.”
Forefront would receive federal tax credits for the project and is eligible for Illinois’ Solar Renewable Energy Credits, which allows it to offer electricity at lower rates to schools.
The company has partnered with more than 80 school districts, colleges and universities nationwide, and it is working on a solar installation for Mooseheart Child City and School in Mooseheart — its only other project in Illinois.
The company also offers free solar energy curriculum to partner school districts, implemented once construction begins. Students can observe and analyze system production using a monitoring platform.
Lesson plans are based on Common Core and Next Generation Science Standards. Teachers will be trained on the curriculum through a webinar.
The company must secure approvals from all three villages before construction can begin in spring 2019, Ganske said.