Maintenance supervisor Keith Cormier (left) and Martin Public Schools superintendent David Harnish look out at the first group of solar panels to be installed on the roof of the school campus. This area is just above some middle school classrooms. (Photo by Ryan Lewis)

Powering up: First solar panels for Martin's solar project installed

By: 
Ryan Lewis, Editor

The first group of solar panels was installed last week atop the roof at Martin Public Schools.

When fully installed, hopefully early next month, the 622 panels of the 150-kilowatt array will provide all of the electrical power the district needs—and more—throughout the sunnier months.

“This is proof we’re going green,” said district superintendent David Harnish. “We’ll have the monitors in place and we can have our ribbon cutting ceremony and celebrate this great accomplishment for our school community. That’s the plan.

“It’s been an over two-year process working with Zach Henderson in its infancy to where we’re at now. This’ll be really nice to have this.”

Henderson, a 2004 Martin High School graduate, helped bring the project to the district after helping school board member Vince Tuinstra install a similarly financed solar project at Tuinstra Greenhouse in Shelbyville. He works with Verde, an energy efficiency consulting firm based in Chicago.

The first grouping of panels is above several middle school classrooms. The rest will end up above the Wyatt Center and the wing of classrooms above the second through fifth grades. Two more phases of additional panels are planned in the future.

Installation has been delayed since late last year, when the recent hurricane season created a shortage in some of the parts necessary to construct the system. Even after that obstacle was overcome, snow further delayed the project.

While snow may have delayed installation, the panels are not expected to be damaged by Michigan’s weather.

The district has signed a contract with Verde to pay a monthly lease of $2,772.84 for 15 years for the system. That totals $33,274.08 annually. In three years, that price is expected to be lower than what the district currently pays annually for power, given the forecasted annual rate increases.

The district will own the panels after those 15 years. Through “net metering,” the district will earn credit when producing more energy than it needs and draw down on that credit when the panels aren’t as productive.

Maintenance supervisor Keith Cormier said, “It’s going to be awesome. I’m excited to see the year after they’re put in, after they’ve been here a full year.”

He and Harnish sees other schools and businesses pursuing similar efforts eventually. He said, “It only makes sense to do this kind of stuff. We’ve got these flat roofs; let’s use them.”

There will be a day on which the power will have to be cut while the necessary changes are made to the electrical system to connect it to the grid. Harnish said he was working to make sure that occurred on a weekend.

Contact Ryan Lewis at rmlewis@allegannews.com or (269) 673-5534.

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