Solar power fuels local public schools chools

Courtesy Ottawa Solar Power

Courtesy Ottawa Solar Power

Centretown schools may soon to have solar panels similar to ones installled at Nepean High School.

The chair of Ottawa’s public school board says solar panels could soon occupy the roofs of several Centretown schools, as a project to install them throughout the city is now under way.

Energy Ottawa and Ottawa Solar Power are installing 10-kilowatt solar-panel systems at 13 city schools, changes that are are expected to reduce greenhouse gases by 2.2 tons and generate $120,000 per year for the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board.

None of the schools selected for the pilot program are in Centretown, but board chairwoman Cathy Curry says downtown schools could be next.

 “These 13 schools are being seen as a pilot project that we would eventually be able to roll out to all of our schools,” she says. “We want to be able to reduce our costs at all schools.”

Among the first schools to receive the solar system is Mutchmor Public School in the Glebe.

The project is partially funded by the Ontario Ministry of Education through a renewable energy program, which supports renewable energy initiatives in schools through March 2011.

The province will fund $750,000 of the costs, while the school board covers the remaining $250,000.

Fred Meunier, project manager for Ottawa Solar Power, says half of the schools have all the necessary solar-panel equipment on their roof ready to be installed, while another two are completely set up. He says once everything is in place and the results start coming in, he thinks the board will be happy and expand the solar-panel program into Centretown and elsewhere across the city.

“It’s a return on investment,” he says. “Once the schools realize the benefits of this, I think they will order more.”

Meunier says that through the Ontario Power Authority’s microFIT program, the board will end up generating $120,000 in revenue each year, selling all of the solar energy they capture over the next 20 years back to the province for 80.2 cents per kilowatt hour. But each school will still end up using the solar energy, he explained.

“Basically they’re feeding the grid with power, and they’re paying (the province) for that power,” he says. “But since they’re also the closest to that power, they will be using that power before other people regardless, and that’s one thing nobody knows.”

The province will also have to pay for all of the electricity generated by the solar panels, which is set at a rate significantly higher than the market price.

But Curry said there are not only financial benefits to this program, but educational advantages, too. Each system has a web program that would allow the school community to monitor each site’s solar-panel results.

“Kids can go on the web and look at the amount of energy their individual school is using and how much it’s saving from the solar panels,” she says. “And for students, that is very hands-on and relates to their own life.”

Jeff Cosman, teacher at Centennial Public School, says the reason he supports the program and hopes it comes to his school is because it’s linked to the curriculum.

“It’s educational for the children,” he says. “It fits right into my science curriculum of how energy is made.”

Shahina Alam, whose son attends Grade 2 at Centennial, says she would support the development of solar-panel systems in Centretown.

“It’s good to know that it’s beneficial, that it’s helping the environment,” she says.

Curry says all Ottawa residents, and not just parents and teachers, should be excited about this project, especially since it saves tax dollars without taking anything away from the students.

“Finally this is something that is really possible and it doesn’t mean cuts to the classroom,” she says. “In fact, the classroom is affected in this particular project in a positive way. It’s very refreshing.”