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Solar energy offsets costs and educates students at TCU Schools

MN South News - Staff Photo - Create Article

A close look at the solar panels and system installed at the Tri-City United High School that will go live next month to help offset electricity costs for the school. (Jarrod Schoenecker photo)

Jarrod Schoenecker,

Students at Tri-City United Schools are going to be getting an education hands-on with solar energy due to a new 40kWh solar array installed at both the Le Center K-8 school and high school in Montgomery. The project has been a few years in the making with a long-term vision from Carl Menk, who has off-and-on served as the districts facilities director in addition to being the districts regular full-time technology director.

The project comes from a partnership between the school district, Minnesota Valley Electric Cooperative (MVEC), IDEAL Energies from the Twin Cities, WEB construction and Paul’s Electric of Le Center. In having the engineers look at all the TCU school sites to find which ones had viable spaces to use for solar energy so they could take advantage of the Solar for Schools grant, they identified the Lonsdale, Le Center, and Montgomery high school sites and areas of buildings that would be capable of supporting the systems. The district applied for grants for each school but only received grants for Le Center and Montgomery.

Menk said they prepared the groundwork for this years in advance, starting to talk about it in 2018. When it came time for a roof replacement in 2020, they purposefully put in a flat white membrane roof with a 30-year warranty in preparation for adding solar. “Most solar arrays have about a 25 year lifespan and we gain a little extra by having a white roof,” said Menk. The white roof also helps keep the building cooler, which also saves on energy.

Having a 30-year warranty on the roof, it also keeps in line with life-span of the solar arrays. Menk says he worked with the roofing company when installing the solar array to make sure that the install would meet specifications to maintain the warranty on the roofs.

The Solar for Schools grant itself has a limit of 40kW for each educational location, which was one reason for the limit on the size of the install. The grants are substantial though, saving $140,000 at each location of install that is financed over a period of 10 years.

The 40kWh solar array is installed freestanding and at a 10 degree incline to the south, optimizing the suns potential over the yearly average. The benefit to having a freestanding system, one that simply rests on the roof, is that there is no drilling and attaching to the roof itself, which leaves less points that could turn into roof leaks. It also yields the benefit of being able to do any roof repairs very timely and less expensively, not having to uninstall and reinstall parts of the array to the roof, according to Menk.

Excess electricity that is generated by the solar array is pushed back to MVEC and purchased by them, also helping offset the schools’ energy costs.

The high school has additional areas that are planned for addition of and could expand up to 120kW of solar panels in the future, as the 40kWh system installed does not...

To see more on this story pick up the August 24, 2023 print edition of the Montgomery Messenger. 

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