School board looking at solar arrays for Hawthorne, Sibley

Published 5:58 am Tuesday, October 3, 2023

The Albert Lea school board discussed possibilities to bring solar arrays to two more schools in the district Monday night after recently finishing projects at Halverson Elementary School and Southwest Middle School and plans already underway at the high school.

Rich Ragatz with iDeal Energies said the new projects being discussed are at Hawthorne and Sibley elementary schools.

Ragatz said each school is eligible for a $102,000 grant for the project, and he is working with district staff for a pre-applications for the grant funds.

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IDeal Energies, a Minneapolis-based commercial solar energy developer, has been around since 2010 and has installed over 135 solar arrays at more than 40 school districts, he said.

Legislation passed in 2021 provided $8 million in grants to schools that install solar arrays up to 40kW AC outside of the Xcel Energy territory through the Minnesota Department of Commerce, and an additional $15 million was approved this year. Schools that participate must provide an education curriculum about the solar arrays and provide live solar energy monitoring for the public, both of which the company can provide.

Under the company’s proposal, the district owns the solar array from the start, and there is no upfront cost for the district. The arrays would take up about 4,000 square feet each and would be placed directly on top of the roofs of the schools.

Ragatz said the company completes the grant paperwork on behalf of the district and uses those funds to help pay for the array. The district would then go on to pay iDeal Energies 43% of the energy savings for a 20-year term. Savings for the district after paying the company would equate to about $250,000 over the course of 40 years for each school.

The company would operate and maintain the arrays during the initial 20-year period.

Ragatz said the district should find out sometime this month if it has been approved to submit the full grant application in December.

In other action, the board:

• Discussed ideas for getting student representatives involved in the school board meetings.

Ideas included having students from the superintendent’s student cabinet come and give reports like teachers do on a rotating basis, potentially having a parent and student from the parent-teacher organization at the elementary schools come and speak and even incorporating student athletes or leaders of the FFA to give additional insight.

• Discussed the board giving itself a self-evaluation.

Superintendent Ron Wagner said he thought it would be a good reflection point for the board to do after the strategic plan is in place.

Board member Dave Klatt said previously when the board had done a self-evaluation, a document was sent out to each board member to fill out and send back. The district can then review the results itself or it can utilize a consultant to evaluate the responses.

The board previously opted to review the results itself instead of hiring a consultant for the review.

• Approved the 2023-’24 advisers for various activities at the schools, ranging from Americorps mentors, to pep band director and yearbook adviser, among others.

• Went into closed session to discuss labor negations.