District 70 took a slice out of its electric bills back in the summer of 2014 when the largest two of its five schools were topped with solar panels.
The $3.2 million solar power project at 75,000-square-foot Butterfield School and 140,0000-square-foot Highland Middle School with each school hosting about 1,800 solar panels on 40,000-square-feet of the flat school-building roofs. The panels are expected to produce about 900kW worth of power, providing about one-third, or 30 percent, of the electrical power needed to run each school.
At the time, the project made District 70 the largest school district in Illinois to be run by solar-power and the largest solar-powered school district in the Midwest.
The new energy source saves the school district between $3,000 to $5,000 a month on electrical bills, or an estimated $1 million in electricity over the lifetime of the systems.
The project was possible through a private energy grant of $1.8 million from the Illinois Clean Energy Community Foundation.
On sunny days, the schools’ solar panels generate electricity on site. Even cloudy days produce energy, according to records being tabulated at the schools. Both schools are linked to websites that show how much energy the solar panels are producing. Highland Middle School’s website and the Butterfield School website are both used by students studying solar engery.
The panels are expected to last 30 years and have the first 20 years covered by maintenance.
All the panels are set on a slight angle to try to catch the strongest of the suns’ rays, as well as to keep them somewhat clear of the elements. For example, when it snows the sun will heat the panels and the slight pitch will help the snow slide off the panels.
The photovoltaic systems to be used on both schools will help reduce the carbon footprints of District 70 by more than 50 million pounds of CO2 if the electricity came from traditional coal plants.
Single Solar Panels Installed in 2009
District 70 first ventured into solar power in 2009 when it applied for state grants and installed two 14-foot high solar panels that stand outside Butterfield and Highland Middle schools. The panels were a part of a re-roofing project at both schools.
On a good day, each panel will create enough energy to light one classroom. Each panel can produce about one kilowatt of energy when it’s sunny, which translates to powering about 10-12 75-watt bulbs. The main purpose of the panels, however, is that they are used as educational tools. Both panels are able to communicate on a website so that students can study, graph and learn about the energy each produces.
Registration for new students and for returning students will open for both on Feb. 2.
For new students, begin on the D70 website (d70schools.org) under Departments to Student Registration. Click on “New Kindergarten & New Student Registration” and begin filling out forms, starting with Preregistration.