SOMERS, N.Y. – Somers Middle School has installed 390 solar panels on one of its roofs, becoming the first school in New York to do so under the state’s K-Solar clean energy initiative.
The initiative, introduced by Gov. Andrew Cuomo in 2014, provides public and nonprofit schools throughout the state the opportunity to sign up for a free solar installation program. The panels were installed free of charge by SolarCity, the vendor chosen by the New York Power Authority, and are expected to save the district about $27,000 annually on energy costs. They are also estimated to offset about 170,000 pounds of carbon dioxide annually, which is equivalent to removing more than 280 cars from the road.
The district will pay a fixed rate per kilowatt hour for the energy produced by the solar array. According to Kenneth Crowley, assistant superintendent for business, the rate starts at 7 cents and increases annually by 2 percent. The agreement is for 18 years, so the final year’s rate will be 98 cents, he said.
Jill Anderson, executive vice president and chief commercial officer at New York Power Authority, said that in May, the panels generated about 20 percent of the energy the school consumed. At a press conference in the middle school library, Anderson told an audience of several dozen science class students that the world needs more scientists, inventors and engineers to help combat climate change.
“The more we use renewable energy like solar, the more we’re going to reduce our use of oil and gas and other fossil fuels, and that’s how we are going to fight climate change,” Anderson said.
Dr. Raymond Blanch, superintendent of schools, said solar energy seemed like a fantasy when he was in middle school. He said it is amazing to see how far the technology has advanced in just a few decades. The school district plans to incorporate the solar panels into its curriculum.
“I deeply appreciate our partnership with K-Solar, and certainly the governor’s office for allowing us this opportunity to go ahead and allow our children to get this experience in the school and then create it as a learning opportunity moving forward,” Blanch said.
Principal Jeffrey Getman said he is not surprised to see Somers Middle School become the first school in the state to take advantage of the program, saying it aligns with the district’s philosophy of teaching sustainability.
“We as a school district are really walking the walk,” Getman said. “We believe that our school community has a responsibility to the global community, and by participating in this program, we are setting a positive example for the community and for our students. We’re backing up our words with actions that will have an impact way beyond the walls of our building.”
Getman also touted a kiosk in the school lobby that displays the energy produced by the solar panels, how much carbon dioxide in pounds is offset by the system, and the number of trees that have been saved by using the system. He said projects like these have long-lasting effects on the world.
“We may never know that impact, but it’s exciting to think about what somebody sitting in this audience today could do in the future,” Getman said.
Middle school science teacher Chrissy Lepkowski echoed Getman’s comments, saying she has her students complete personal energy audits to assess their usage and how they can limit the amount of energy they consume on a daily basis.
“Our goal is to recognize the impact that each and every student can have on helping prevent global climate change,” Lepkowski said. “We’re realizing and talking with our students about how one student, one impact, one small step is one piece in the greater picture here.”
Middle school tech teacher Matt Lugo said his department is constantly encouraging students to create products that use sustainable energy.
“We’re trying to inspire students to pursue engineering and let them know they can make a really big difference in the world,” Lugo said. “Engineers and inventors make the world a better place.”
Another 25 school districts are under contract with the New York Power Authority to have solar panels installed at 48 locations, Anderson said. The shelf life on solar panels is typically 10 years. In order to be eligible for the K-Solar program, schools must have the necessary infrastructure, including new roofs.