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Stewartville, Byron schools gear up for solar panel projects

Overall, the state dedicated $8 million to the Solar for Schools program.

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The solar panels will be placed on the roofs of Stewartville High School and the district's Bear Cave Intermediate School, similar to a project completed at Hamilton Elementary in La Crosse, Wisconsin (pictured).
Contributed / Solar Connection
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STEWARTVILLE — The school districts of Stewartville and Byron are getting ready to harvest sunlight in the hopes of saving resources as well as educating their students on the technology.

In Stewartville's case, it's doing so by taking advantage of a grant from the Minnesota Department of Commerce, called Solar for Schools. The grant will pay for 85% of the cost to install solar panels, allowing the district to use a renewable resource while also saving the amount it spends on energy.

“With this grant program, it really allows schools to own the projects outright from the start,” said Brok Johnson, with the company Solar Connection.

The school will place the panels on the roofs of both the high school and Bear Cave Intermediate School. There will be 124 panels at each location.

According to Dan Schroeder, business manager for the school district, the panels won’t be installed on the high school until this fall, due to a number of other projects happening at the building. He said there’s a possibility that the project could happen sooner at Bear Cave.

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Overall, the state dedicated $8 million to the Solar for Schools program. The total cost to install the panels at the two Stewartville locations will be $226,066. Of that total, Stewartville Public Schools will be responsible for paying just under $34,000.

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The school district should be able to recoup the cost of its investment after a couple years. At that point, the panels will create savings of $15,000 to $20,000 a year.

Johnson said the use of solar energy should result in approximately 8-10% energy savings in each building.

According to Schroeder, part of the program requires the participating schools to provide an educational component about solar energy. Teachers will incorporate material about the solar projects into their curriculum.

“There is an educational piece here that actually is a really nice component,” Schroeder said. “We’ll have display screens in certain areas within each building where the project is that’ll show the energy being produced and all kinds of things.”

Unlike Stewartville, Byron already had some panels in use, and would be adding to that with the Solar for School program. Byron Public Schools is receiving $102,000 in grant funding from the program.

Due to the fact that Byron uses two different energy companies, it is only able to use the Solar for Schools grant funding for the high school. However, it is working through another program to add panels on its other buildings.

Also unlike Stewartville, which is paying for its portion of the cost of the project upfront, Byron is using its savings from the solar project to pay for the cost of installation over time.

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"We didn't feel that we had the money to put upfront right away," said Superintendent Mike Neubeck. "We're excited about the possible savings that we're going to have."

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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