New solar panels on top of The Liberty School in Durango will give students a chance to learn about green energy and cut the school’s electricity costs and carbon footprint.
“As an educational institution, we feel it’s important to model making good decisions,” said Christian Holmen, head of the private institution that serves dyslexic and intellectually gifted students.
More residents, businesses and other entities could also have the opportunity to choose solar power thanks to new smart inverters that can reduce the voltage solar panel systems produce, said Ron Meier, La Plata Electric Association’s manager of engineering and member services.
In the past, LPEA has had to deny some residents rooftop solar approval because the systems could send too much voltage into the electrical grid. But smart inverters can “throttle down” the voltage a solar panel system produces, he said. This summer, LPEA revised its interconnection standards to account for the new inverters, which will allow more rooftop solar installations to connect to the grid, Meier said.
Each rooftop project helps the state and LPEA meet ambitious goals to cut carbon. Gov. Jared Polis wants Colorado to transition to 100% renewable energy by 2040, and LPEA aims to cut its carbon footprint by 50% by 2030.
“Every electron we produce from a solar panel is one less we have to get from a fossil fuel,” Meier said.
When the school is not in use during the summer, electrical power will be sent to the grid, helping to power homes near the school, he said. LPEA keeps a log of the excess electricity the school produces and allows the school to draw the same amount of power for free from the grid when the sun is not shining.
The school opened its new building earlier this year and serves 32 students. The school was designed to be as green as possible. The original design included solar panels, but the solar-power system had to be eliminated to cut costs, Holmen said.
To make it financially feasible, Shaw Solar paid for the panels up front and leased them to the school, he said.
“In terms of overall cost, it’s pretty comparable to what we pay for regular electricity,” Holmen said.
The solar panels are expected to hold the school’s power costs stable if LPEA’s costs rise, Ellis said.
The system will also be used as an educational tool. A monitor in the school’s lobby will show electrical production in real time, and Shaw Solar employees are expected to speak about the system at the school, he said.
“The idea is this is a real-time learning tool, where the students can learn about energy,” he said.