Warsaw Superintendent endorses solar energy

By Josh Sigler

With at least two school districts in Wabash County contemplating installing solar energy in their buildings, taking a look at what other school districts in the area are doing could prove beneficial.

Warsaw Community Schools’ Superintendent Dr. David Hoffert recently talked with The Paper of Wabash County about his schools’ decision to install solar fields at five of their campuses.

Warsaw’s $10 million project is expected to save the school district a little over $15 million in energy costs over the next 25 years.

“If you’re looking at the three drivers that we had, there was financial driver, there was definitely an educational driver because we’re excited to share green energy with our kids, for our students to understand how this works and what the impact is financially and for green energy here in our community,” Hoffert said. “And, the last driver is the environmentalism driver.”

Hoffert explained that Warsaw Community Schools has been one of the national leaders for STEM education, and during its latest building projects, it installed a couple solar panels where they were renovating and building. So. It started out as an educational tool.

About a little over a year ago, Warsaw Chief Financial Officer Dr. Brandon Penrod came forward with the idea of installing solar panels on a larger scale. He had been working with a couple organizations and learned of the amount of savings a school system could incur with such a project.

“We started looking at the economic, long-term impact that it would have on our schools, because we knew what we were paying in energy costs, and we realized for the same price, we could be leasing solar panels, have a guaranteed energy savings, and then over a set number of years, the biggest savings that we would have was that we would be able to control our energy prices,” Hoffert said. “Whereas traditional energy goes up two to four percent every single year, we would be able to capture energy and we would be able to really guarantee what our energy cost was going to be for our schools. By being able to do that, we realized that we we’re going to save millions of dollars in the long run.”

A number of Warsaw’s school board members went and took a look at what other places, such as Indianapolis International Airport and other schools in Indiana, were doing with their solar fields, and what kind of savings they were enjoying.

“We came back, and our board members were sold on the idea,” Hoffert said. “They loved the concept, so we took a look at the schools that had the extra land that could support the solar fields that we were planning. We went ahead and put them in place.”

Hoffert explained that there is very little if any risk involved for the school due to the fact that they have a guaranteed savings contract in place, which locks their energy costs in place.

“We know what the output is,” he said. “The only long-term thing we don’t know is what our energy price is going to be. We don’t know what the percentage is. We’re just estimating over the last 25 years of what energy increases have gone into effect to create our tables. But, we’re not going to be paying more than what we are right now.”

Warsaw just finished up the final touches on the installation of solar panels at five of its buildings, so it hasn’t been able to capture any of that savings just yet.

“The install finishes were any time between January, and we had our last one that should be going on line this next month,” Hoffert said. “When we talk about savings, the savings isn’t so much in year No. 1. We know there will be minimal savings. The biggest savings comes each year as energy prices go up and ours stay consistent.”

Hoffert, who formerly served as Northfield High School principal, said he has talked to both Wabash City Schools Superintendent Jason Callahan and Metropolitan School District of Wabash County Superintendent Mike Keaffaber about his school’s journey into solar panels. Both Wabash and MSD have heard presentations on the prospects of installing solar at their schools at recent meetings.

“I highly encourage it,” Hoffert said. “We’re very excited for what this holds. Like I said, it’s really a three-pronged approach, because we’re gaining an educational value with the financial and the green energy. I’m a large supporter of it. We’re excited to have this as part of our school system.”

Posted on 2018 Jul 10