Crothersville schools operating on solar power

CROTHERSVILLE — Solar panels now adorn the roof of the Crothersville school building and nearby central administration building.

A project to install nearly 2,000 3-by-6-foot panels that began earlier this year recently wrapped up, and Crothersville Community School Corp. is the first Jackson County school district to use that power source, which converts energy from the sun into power.

After Royalty Roofing of Seymour spent about six weeks installing a new roof on the school, PSG Energy Group of Indianapolis put its contractors to work installing the solar panels.

Vaughn Isenhower, maintenance director for Crothersville schools, said the administration office portion was activated in May, and the school part was completed in August. Each solar panel weighs 45 pounds and produces a maximum production of 640 watts.

With the school converting to LED lighting in recent years and now having solar panels installed, Isenhower’s job will be easier. The LED lights last much longer and are more cost- and energy-efficient than incandescent, so he won’t have to change bulbs near as frequently, while the solar panels will be regularly monitored by an outside source.

“There’s a box up on the roof that’s hooked up to WiFi, and so it sends them a signal constantly,” he said. “All of the systems they put in are monitored.”

The panels were put online on a sunny, clear day so each array and its inverter could be tested to come up with a baseline of what it can produce, Isenhower said.

“Then going forward over time, they will go down and they’ll lose some of their chemical reaction, and so they monitor that,” he said. “If it goes to a certain point, it’s like, ‘Well, what’s causing this?’ so now, they have to come down and look at it. It’s all online that way as far as testing. They’ll come down every six months to do a visual of it.”

Both the roof and solar panels have a warranty of more than 20 years. The only part of the roof that wasn’t redone was on the auxiliary gymnasium. That’s because it’s a metal roof and still is in good shape.

The roof and heating, ventilation and air conditioning unit on the building were 20 years old. Since there were issues with them in recent years and they reached their life expectancy, the corporation put together a committee to research options to have them replaced this year.

That committee also researched rooftop solar panels and learned installing those could save the corporation around $114,000 per year on electricity bills.

Considering all of the benefits, the board of education approved moving forward with the project.

The roof portion of the project cost $1.1 million, while the solar and HVAC portions totaled $3.7 million. Bond payments will be biannually through 2040 through the corporation’s debt service fund.

PSG reviewed the roofs, conducted core samples and walked the site with school officials and several roofing contractors. Some of the building’s roof sections had two or three layers, while others only had one. Those with more than one layer received a partial tear-off and disposal to bring the roofs back down to a single layer of roofing.

As for the solar panels, anything that is powered in the building now goes through them.

Even when it was rainy and overcast and the sun was behind the clouds Monday morning, Isenhower said it was still making energy to power the panels.

“With 4 inches of snow on top of them, they will still absorb light through that and make power,” he said. “It won’t be as much, but it will produce energy.”

Isenhower said the average monthly electric bill for the school building was between $12,000 and $14,000, but with the solar panels, PSG said it expects the bill to be 80% less.

“I just think the green side of it, just getting halfway off the grid anyway, getting away from that, that’s the positive thing in the whole deal,” he said. “They’ve come a long way with solar panels in the last 10 years from what they were, so I think they are just going to make more strides in that, so the next time it’s replaced when it comes to that point, we’ll be better off than we were before.”