Huntley School District 158 is expecting to flip the switch on a series of solar panels estimated to save the district $4.2 million in energy costs over the next 20 years by the end of March.
Last year, the district partnered with ForeFront Power, which agreed to design, permit, finance, install and maintain the solar energy project across all three of the district’s campuses. The renewable energy company had estimated that the installation of solar panels would offset 12.3 million pounds of carbon emissions in the first year.
“We’re making use of the power of the sun and shifting our energy from burning to learning,” District 158 Superintendent Scott Rowe said during the village of Huntley’s 2020 State of Huntley address.
Rowe said that the average Illinois school district spends about $296 a pupil on energy costs. District 158, however, spends $177 a pupil before it begins to reap the benefits of the solar project.
“We live in tough financial times in the state of Illinois and the overburdened property tax payers, we recognize them,” Rowe said. “This is not something that we take lightly. We use every dollar we get from our constituents efficiently, and we work extremely hard to ensure that every aspect of what we do not only is efficient but we’re maximizing those dollars.”
Installation of solar panels at District 158’s Reed Road campus – which contains Chesak Elementary, Martin Elementary and Marlowe Middle schools – and Square Barn campus – which contains Mackeben Elementary, Conley Elementary and Heineman Middle schools – was performed at about the same time.
However, installation of panels at the Harmony Road campus – which includes Huntley High School and Leggee Elementary School – will be finished at a later date.
District 158 Chief Financial Officer Mark Altmayer said that over the years, the district has taken numerous steps to reduce its energy costs, including energy audits, performance contracts and the installation of light sensors that shut down air systems when someone leaves the room. The district also had considered the installation of roof-mounted solar panels at Huntley High School several years ago.
A few years ago, Altmayer said seven of the district’s nine schools already meet Energy Star certification, which means they are among the top 25% of schools nationwide in energy efficiency.
District 158 spokesman Dan Armstrong had said that only 156 K-12 schools in Illinois receive the honor, and the District 158 schools were the only ones to receive the recognition in McHenry County.
In addition to its environmental and financial benefits, each solar farm will provide an opportunity to implement renewable energy lessons into District 158 schools’ curricula.
Each school hosting a solar project will have its own kiosk, which provides information on the farm’s current and historical generation, environmental benefits, current weather and other relevant data. ForeFront enables these solar curricula for schools through a partnership with Schools Power, a leading national education organization.
Illinois saw such a surge of community solar farm projects seeking renewable energy credits, which developers can use to support the construction of solar arrays statewide, in 2018.
The state received so many applications that it had to perform a lottery to determine which projects would receive benefits first. However, growth in renewable energy is estimated to stall this year without intervention from the Illinois General Assembly. District 158’s project did not have to participate in the lottery.
Without an expansion of the state’s renewable energy program, Illinois may not be able to hit its energy targets laid out in the Illinois Future Energy Jobs Act, which was adopted in 2017 to spur renewable energy development. Under the act, the state must be operating at 16% renewable energy by 2020 and 25% by 2025.
Representatives of ForeFront Power could not be reached for comment.