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Byron Public Schools considers amping up its solar power usage

If the school district moves forward with the project, it would be in addition to some solar panels already in place on school district grounds.

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Byron High School Thursday, Feb. 18, 2021, in Byron. (Joe Ahlquist / jahlquist@postbulletin.com)
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BYRON — Byron Public Schools is looking into the possibility of increasing its dependence on renewable energy with the help of some new state funding.

On Tuesday, the school board held a study session and met with Rich Ragatz, the vice president of business development for the company Ideal Energies. Although the board didn't make any decisions at the meeting, they discussed adding solar panels to the district's high school.

If the district does move forward with the project, they could do so in a couple different ways. Both options fall under the recently developed Solar For Schools Grant Program.

"Established by the state Legislature in 2021, the Solar for Schools Grant Program is designed to stimulate the installation of solar energy systems on Minnesota public schools," the Department of Commerce's website reads.

Byron became eligible for the funding through an equation that took into account the school district's adjusted net tax capacity and its number of students.

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One of the two programs would award the district up to $102,000. The district wouldn't have to pay for the installation or the materials and it would get a 40% discount on the energy produced by the panels for 20 years. After that, it would have full access to the energy they produce.

It would require approximately 5,000 square feet of space.

"You'll end up with about a $350,000 net savings over the life of the system," Ragatz said.

Another option, which is still be developed, would earn the district a given amount for each kilowat hour of power created through the panels.

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It's not a simple matter of just chosing between the two options. The first program is for buildings that are "located outside of Xcel Energy territory," according to the Department of Commerce. The second one would be for buildings that utilize Xcel Energy.

Byron Public Schools utilizes Xcel Energy as well as a co-op, so it could technically use both options.

Byron school officials are in the beginning phases of adding to their solar power. They spent much of the Feb. 1 meeting asking questions such as whether the panels would have to be on the roof or if they could be on the ground, and how the two programs differed from one another.
The school district already has some solar panels that were installed in 2014 as part of an earlier initiative.

Byron is not the only district in the area that has dabbled in solar energy. About a decade ago, a group of students led an initiative to get panels at each of Rochester's public high schools. In addition to saving energy, the Rochester solar panels provided another learning opportunity for students.

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An educational element will be part of the upgrade in Byron as well.

"We also provide educational materials that can be incorporated into the classroom," Ragatz said.

Related Topics: EDUCATIONBYRON
Jordan Shearer covers K-12 education for the Post Bulletin. A Rochester native, he graduated from Bemidji State University in 2013 before heading out to write for a small newsroom in the boonies of western Nebraska. Bringing things full circle, he returned to Rochester in 2020 just shy of a decade after leaving. Readers can reach Jordan at 507-285-7710 or jshearer@postbulletin.com.
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