Things are looking sunny for University Park Elementary, which is set to become the first Prince George’s County public school to get a rooftop solar panel array, providing clean energy as well as educational opportunities for students
“This has been a wonderful experience, and I think this brings some notoriety to this school and our town to be the first in the county,” said University Park Mayor John Tabori. “We’re also reducing our carbon footprint. I think that’s really very important.”
The 216-panel array is part of a partnership between the school system, Pepco utility company and the town of University Park. The $200,000 cost is being paid for entirely through the town’s Small Town Energy Program, a three-year grant from the U.S. Department of Energy, said Chuck Wilson, STEP program director.
The program took two years to develop, and the school board authorized the construction during its May meeting, Wilson said.
“It had to go through all the approval processes. Everything takes time, and we were dealing with three institutions’ inertias, the school system’s, the town’s and Pepco’s,” Wilson said.
Wilson said the solar panel installation will contribute an estimated 85,000 kilowatt-hours of clean energy to the power grid each year, while a conventional power plant producing that amount of energy would contribute 60 tons of greenhouse gas emissions.
The array will provide clean energy and provide the town and school system up to $18,000 annually through the sale of electricity produced and renewable energy tax credits, Wilson said.
“The electricity will go back to the grid, and then we will get a single bill from Pepco that will shows us how much is being sold back to the grid, plus we’ll sell some renewable energy credits, and that’s the genesis of the revenues,” Wilson said.
Students at University Park and elsewhere in the county will be able to view the solar panels via webcam, said Scott Wiater, president of Rockville-based Standard Solar, the company contracted to install the solar panels.
“I think what will be most exciting is when the students get to see real-time data on the solar panels and use that data. I think [that] really brings to life what they’re learning,” said University Park Elementary Principal Nancy Schickner.
School board member Amber Waller (Dist. 3), who was first approached by the town two years ago with the idea, said she is excited about the possibilities the panels present.
“This will really complement the STEM [science, technology, engineering and math] programs in our schools and provide hands-on experience with what they’re learning in their textbooks,” she said.
Chris Mills, a county school system instructional director, said the most significant educational impact is long-term.
“I think the biggest benefit for the kids here is that it’s a real life example where they can see that it’s possible, and removes this idea of solar or renewable energy from this conceptual crayon drawing into a real-life example,” Mills said.