Albert Lea school board considers solar projects

Published 8:39 pm Monday, May 16, 2022

A representative from  iDEAL Energies gave a presentation to Albert Lea school board members about solar energy during Monday night’s board meeting.

“A few months ago the Minnesota Department of Commerce announced a new round of funding for school district solar projects,” said Jennifer Walsh, executive director of finance and operations. “I was involved, when I was in Byron, with two such projects. It was with Xcel Energy and we put solar panels on two of our buildings and we worked with iDEAL Energies at that time.”

Rich Ragatz began his presentation by saying the company has installed over 140 solar arrays in over 30 Minnesota school districts.

“There’s an $8 million pot of money that for the first time we’re able to do schools outside of Xcel Energy,” he said. “These are all the utilities across the state.”

That includes the ability to work with Freeborn-Mower Electric Cooperative.

Ragatz explained the panels, which would go on Halverson Elementary School and Southwest Middle School, would sit on top of the roof membrane with aluminum trays and foam padding underneath.

Panels would be facing south and have a 10-degree tilt, meaning they wouldn’t be easy to see.

According to Ragatz, original funding was for up to seven schools in the outstate program. But because of the positive response, funding was limited to two different schools for each district with additional funding coming in 2023.

“Based on the metrics, you qualify for $102,000 in grant money for each of the two solar projects to help make it a better deal for your district,” he said.

Under iDEAL’s solar program, the district would take ownership of the solar arrays the first day, and there would be no upfront cost. The company would also operate and maintain the solar arrays for the district.

He also said because rates are already high for utilities, the project would be a good deal.

“On your projects you’re going to save over 50% based on the energy that’s created each and every year,” he said. 

According to Ragatz, the district would create $10,107 in revenue from Halverson the first year, while they would also pay $4,648.

“Your total expenses are the $4,648, and so year one you’re going to have a savings or reduction in your utility expense on each of the two buildings of $5,459.”

Ragatz projected that number to increase to $139,000 over 20 years, and $554,000 over 40 years.

Ragatz said the warranty is 25 years.

The projected numbers were similar for Southwest.

There would also be new curriculum as part of the grant.

“It’s kind of neat to teach kids about the renewable aspects,” he said. “We have online, web-based monitoring so you can get on, you have a little app on your phone showing you how much energy was created daily, monthly, annually.”

The application deadline is May 31, and Ragatz was hopeful should the district sign up the solar panels would be installed this year.

“As long as we get something in June for an approval we’ll move forward,” he said. “Then we can kind of meet the timelines of the program.”

If an application is submitted, he said installation would be in the fall, but he assured the board they could work around school hours. 

In other action:

  • The board celebrated Burke Egner, a teacher at Southwest Middle School and a technology coach for the district, and the Broken Zip-Ties, who qualified for a world competition earlier this month, where they competed as one of 800 teams broken into 10 80-team divisions.
  • The district recognized Duane Miller, the head custodian at the high school, as well as Darci Rasmussen as Employees of the Year for March and February, respectively.
  • In reports to the board, Superintendent Mike Funk said the plan is to have a 7 p.m. outdoor graduation Friday at Hammer Field, but a final weather determination will be made Wednesday. He said if graduation is moved inside the district would get the word out.

ALC students will graduate at 6 p.m. Thursday from Albert Lea High School’s auditorium.

  • Under consent items, board members passed 2022-23 meal prices. Breakfast will be $1.25, while lunch prices will vary between the elementary ($2.80), middle and ALC schools ($2.90) and high school ($3.10). Those prices are the same as the 2019-20 school year.
  • The district spent over $2.88 million between April 19 and Monday.
  • In appointments, board members agreed to appoint Taylor Thompson, Shelby Stephenson, Elizabeth Johnson, Jason Halbert, Jamie Harty, Jordan Battery, Nathan Olsen and Pamela Anfinson. They agreed to leaves of absence for Mary Puok, Jane Beighley and Stephanie Ehmke. They also agreed to retirements for Stephanie Nicolaus and Christine Schmidt and the resignations of Kylie Vanderheuvel, Sunny Kline, Anthony Bissen, Alicia Heilmann, Sa Ba Taw, Rachel Korman, Leah Meyer, Melissa J. Schmidt, Janessa Jandt, Hailey Barnes, Todd Collins and Crystal Ryun. Spencer Maskrey, a substitute custodian, was terminated last Wednesday.
  • The board accepted donations totaling about $3,219.