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Huntley's District 158's new solar panel system, largest of any school district in the state, could generate up to $270,000 a year in savings

District unveils largest solar panel system of any school district in the state

Huntley School District 158 will save upwards of $270,000 each year with its new solar panels, which span across three different sites, making it the largest solar panel system at a school district in Illinois.

The switch to solar has been a long time coming with the first seeds being sown before Superintendent Scott Rowe came into his role and the project being approved in the summer of 2018, according to reporting by the Northwest Herald.

“It’s probably our biggest operational efficiency and then it will have our biggest green impact, environmental impact, so we are very excited about it and what it means for us and what it means for the community,” Rowe said.

In total, the three sites have 15,100 solar panels and are strategically placed at district campuses in Huntley, Algonquin and Lake in the Hills in order to provide clean, renewable energy to all of its schools, he said.

The District 158 solar panel system will offset 12.3 million pounds of carbon emissions, according to a news release from ForeFront Power, the company behind the project.

“If we can be good stewards of our community’s tax dollars and we can find ways to increase our efficiency with green products, then it's a win-win situation,” Rowe said.

The solar panel fields at most of the district's schools were finished towards the end of the summer and the final product unveiled two weeks ago. Solar energy now will account for about 80% of the district's energy consumption, he said.

Along with the finished product, ForeFront Power installed interactive kiosks in each of the district's school buildings where students can learn more about renewable energy resources, he said. The company also provided curriculum about solar energy for teachers of all grades to use in their lesson plans.

The kiosks also will provide live updates of how each building is consuming the energy being produced by the solar panels installed at its campus, Rowe said.

Eventually, Rowe said he hopes to offer a career and technical education certification in renewable energy so that interested Huntley High School students can graduate with experience in a growing industry.

“Our students could get hands-on experience working on the panels themselves, maybe not our panels in our fields but a panel that has been decommissioned or something, to learn how it works and how to work on it and the safety management side of it and earn a certification because I'm sure that's going to be needed down the road,” he said.

The idea for the solar panels first began when the district asked Director of Operations and Maintenance Doug Renkosik to find ways to save money and increase efficiency, Rowe said.

In 2018, the district entered into a power purchase agreement with ForeFront Power, a California-based solar and energy storage company, which will cover the costs of installing and maintaining the solar panels for a contract of 20 years, according to a news release from the company.

In turn, the district pays for the electricity generated by the solar panels at a lower rate than the district's previous utility rate, a cost which Rowe said currently is covered by a renewable energy grant from the state.

At the end of its contract, the district will have the option of buying the solar panels at whatever the present value of the panels is after the 20-year period, Rowe said.

District 158 will save at least $4.2 million over the course of the contract. After the first year with the new system, the district will have a more exact picture of how much it will save taxpayers each year, he said.

“It's a guaranteed savings over the life of the contract which is what's special about it,” Rowe explained. “So even if we don't hit that mark, we still realize those savings with our partner.”

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