Local

Huntley School District 158 planning major solar project

$4.2M in savings expected under agreement with ForeFront Power

Several years ago, Huntley School District 158 Superintendent Scott Rowe said the district had considered the installation of roof-mounted solar panels at Huntley High School, but the timing and technology weren’t quite right.

After ongoing discussions since January, district staff members are ready to move forward with a much larger energy plan.

District 158 is partnering with ForeFront Power, a renewable energy company, to install solar arrays across the district’s three campuses.

A request for proposal was released for a guaranteed energy savings contract in March. Under the power purchase agreement with ForeFront that the district agreed to in June, ForeFront Power will design, permit, finance, install and maintain the solar energy project.

This project – which would break ground in the spring, pending approval from the villages of Huntley, Algonquin and Lake in the Hills – is expected to save the district $4.2 million over the
20 years of the contract, and offset
12.3 million pounds of carbon emissions in the first year, according to a news release from ForeFront Power.

At no upfront cost to the district, Rowe said, the project will reduce the district’s below-average purchase for energy from 4.6 cents a kilowatt-hour to
2.4 cents a kilowatt-hour.

“In the Midwest, energy prices are relatively affordable, but when you go to the coasts, they are extreme,” Rowe said. “The reality that we’re going to continue living in this world of affordable energy is not realistic. We’ve heard projections of 80 percent spikes, so locking in a rate this low is going to save our district a lot.”

District 158 spokesman Dan Armstrong said as the planning process unfolds, community involvement will be encouraged.

“We’ve been very cognizant, as we’ve been through the planning stages, to locate the arrays in ways that are sensitive to our neighbors,” Armstrong said. “Where they’re located now, we are very much minimizing visibility for anyone who happens to be around our campuses. We’re fortunate that we have a pretty good amount of land with flexibility on where to place the arrays.”

Residents can leave comments about the project on the District 158 website.

Armstrong said seven of the district’s nine schools already meet energy star certification, which means they are among the top 25 percent of schools nationwide in energy efficiency. Only 156 K-12 schools in Illinois receive the honor, and the seven District 158 schools are the only ones in the county, Armstrong said.

David Ganske, ForeFront director of marketing, said the project is eligible for a number of state and federal incentives, such as the solar Investment Tax Credit and investments through the Illinois Future Energy Jobs Act.

Each school hosting a solar project will have its own kiosk with system monitoring. ForeFront will use this feature to implement free energy lesson plans from Schools Power, a leading national education organization, Ganske said.

“Essentially, it makes [the project] a hands-on experience for students,” Ganske said. “Not only will they see the project, but they can learn more about solar energy and can look at the data, once the systems are installed, to look at the production.”

Ganske said ForeFront has worked with more than 80 school districts, colleges and universities across the country on similar projects, one of which recently was announced in Mooseheart.

Rowe said the life of the solar arrays will be at least 35 years. At the end of the 20-year contract, District 158 will have the option to extend, buy or renew the system.

Charles Nordman, Huntley’s director of development services, said the village’s code does not regulate similar solar projects, so a zoning code amendment, in addition to a special use request, would have to be approved for the project at the Harmony Road campus to move forward.

An introductory presentation of the project will be given Thursday during a Village Board meeting, Nordman said.

The project tentatively is scheduled for a public hearing before the Plan Commission during its Sept. 10 meeting.

Rowe said he expects the solar arrays to be up and running by the start of the 2019-20 school year.

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