While the sun is rising on the St. Louis Park School District’s plans to install solar power on top of schools, some murkiness has emerged.
The district will have to scale back the number of solar panels that can be installed due to weight limits on roofs, Facilities Manager Tom Bravo said during a March 22 St. Louis Park School Board meeting.
As a result of an analysis by a structural engineer, the district reduced the number of proposed solar panels by more than 1,100. That’s because roofs must be able to support the panels as well as other materials, especially snow.
The district could still install close to 2,400 solar panels. The panels could be placed on the roofs of all the district schools as well as Central Community Center and other structures like maintenance garages, which were able to hold seven more panels than previously estimated. The district also considered adding panels at Lenox Community Center, although Bravo indicated he does not believe that adding panels to the roof at the center may be feasible.
If plans are approved by the state’s Public Utilities Commission, the district would begin installing panels this fall. Panels would gradually be added until work is complete in the fall of 2023.
After all the panels are installed, about 28% of the district’s power would come from alternative energy, according to Bravo. He called that percentage “massive,” adding, “For a district our size, we will be saving quite a bit of money every year.”
Bravo’s presentation estimated that the district would save $200,000 per year on electricity costs through the use of the panels, although he said the estimate will need to be revised since the district is reducing the number of panels to be installed. The presentation estimated that the savings would go toward the solar panel project costs for the first five years.
The district considered making up the number of solar panels that will be reduced by placing them on the ground near schools and in the area of the district’s football stadium. However, Bravo concluded, “We’re not going to put any solar panels on the land right now.”
After Board Chair Mary Tomback asked why district administrators ruled out solar panels on the ground, Bravo explained they would need to be fenced off to prevent tampering.
“That’s electricity that’s flowing through the lines, and we don’t want anything to happen to anybody,” he said.
Solar panels on the ground are also harder to maintain than on roofs, he added.
If the district considered additional funding through a referendum, he said the district could consider rearranging ball fields and play areas to create a large enough space for a solar farm on the ground, “but right now we decided that’s not the way to go,” Bravo said. He described several of the district sites as “landlocked,” with little district-owned space available for solar panels.
The district has a goal to move entirely to alternative energy eventually, according to Bravo. In addition to the district’s own solar power, Xcel Energy’s alternative energy targets could help the district meet its goal.
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