Solar panels boost budgets

Future's bright for region's schools

STACEY KNOTT
Last updated 12:58 01/08/2014
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ALDEN WILLIAMS/FAIRFAX NZ
BRIGHT FUTURE: Stoke School principal Peter Mitchener says the school’s 30 solar panels are reducing its power bill.

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Solar panels provide a financial and educational boost for Nelson schools, say school leaders who are urging political parties to boost funding for the power source.

Both Henley and Stoke schools have been generating power through photovoltaic (PV) solar panels this year, and Garin College is to begin using its newly installed solar panels next month.

In February this year, Henley School in Richmond installed a 60-panel system producing 15KW, that is expected to save the school up to $5000 a year.

Principal John Armstrong said the panels were "brilliant" and were providing a good learning opportunity for the students about power consumption and conservation.

The school also had double glazing, insulation and energy efficient lighting. Armstrong said the school's power bill had dropped about 20 per cent because of the initiatives as well as students and teachers becoming more mindful of energy consumption.

He wanted the Ministry of Education to invest in solar panels for schools.

"I have been advocating for solar for a long time, and have raised it with the Ministry of Education. I can't understand why it hasn't been looking at it for schools."

He wanted to see the ministry negotiate prices for solar panels as well as a guaranteed buy back rate for excess power, from power companies.

"They have the buying power of 2200 schools to negotiate a rate for us all."

He believed all political parties should have solar panels on their agendas this year.

Stoke School had 30 panels installed on classroom roofs last year. They were paid for by a grant from the Canterbury Community Trust, which also paid for a heat pump for the school swimming pool.

The 9kw panels created enough energy to run the heat pump when it was in use.

"What we found is that . . . most days we are not buying power from the grid to keep the school running," said principal Peter Mitchener.

Before the panels were installed the school was paying more than $1000 each month for power. This year, the bills were coming down and the school was making $170 each bill to sell back to the grid for excess power created.

Inspired by Henley, Clifton Terrace School principal Rob Wemyss said the school board was investigating installing solar panels. The school was looking to invest $25,000 into panels which it had to find itself.

"Its a lot of dosh to put out there. We were looking at what the costs we would incur were and what we would get back. It's also about us being an enviro-school too, it links in well with that concept of trying to make a stand."

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The Green Party says Nelson would be a prime example for the benefits of its Solar in Schools policy announced last week. It wants to invest $20 million into solar PV systems in schools to reduce school electricity bills.

Green Party energy spokesman Gareth Hughes said the money saved from power bills could be invested directly into teaching and learning.

Hughes said he would visit Nelson schools during theelection campaign to see how solar panels were working for them.

Wemyss was in support of the Green Party policy, and wanted to see other parties make a stand.

"I certainly think it is something that should be looked at - if schools can save some money and put that back into education it would be strange not to look at it."

Garin College has installed about 50 solar panels and plans to start using them next month once they are fully connected.

Principal John Boyce said the panels were funded between the school and the Catholic diocese. The school has paid about $17,000 of the $50,000 cost, and said it would be paid back in power savings within five years.

The school paid about $80,000 a year in power bills.

Boyce said he wanted to see more schools using solar panels, though the initial costs were an issue for most schools.

Using solar power was commonsense, and Garin was also using the system to educate students on conservation and science.

He said he was "absolutely" in support of the Green policy and said other parties should be looking at similar initiatives.

Ministry of Education head of education infrastructure services Kim Shannon said the ministry was "working with a number of schools on energy-saving programmes to explore new ways of reducing energy use."

"Schools are already provided with funding for property maintenance which can be used for energy-efficiency initiatives as long as other key priorities, including health and safety requirements and improvements to learning environments are met. Schools are able to use solar power panels where it is of benefit to them."

- The Nelson Mail

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