March 26, 2015

Boarding Academy to Save Big With Solar Energy


An Adventist boarding school will save big on electricity bills after teaming up with the largest U.S. provider of solar energy to build an on-campus field of solar panels that will supply all its power needs.

Highland View Academy, based in Hagerstown, Maryland, will save $30,000 a year in electricity costs when the solar field comes online late this year and take a leading position among Adventist institutions in embracing renewable energy.

The academy has signed a 20-year contract with SolarCity to install a 1.06-kilowatt solar field covering 2 acres (0.8 hectares) near the entrance of the school, principal Mick Hutchinson said.

The solar panels will provide 100 percent of the electricity used by academy and the Highland View Church, as well as two-thirds of the electricity used by the nearby Mt. Aetna Camp and Retreat Center.

Solar companies are sniffing around for partnerships in Maryland because government incentives pay them 13 cents for every kilowatt that they generate and give them a triple tax exemption.

Hutchinson, whose previous job at Xerox required him to help the company lower costs and become more environmentally friendly, vetted three solar companies to do the same at the academy. He said he chose SolarCity because it is financially stable and publicly traded.

“Due to HVA's stable financial status, we qualified as an A- grade investment,” he said, referring to the academy by its acronym.

The campus uses 1.2 million kilowatts of electricity annually. With the reduced per kilowatt hour rate guaranteed for 20 years by SolarCity, the academy expects to save 20 percent to 30 percent on its annual electricity bill of $100,000 to $130,000.

SolarCity will cover equipment and installation, leaving no upfront costs for the academy, and donate $100,000 to the academy’s science, technology, engineering, and mathematics program. It also will provide the school with a solar energy curriculum, allowing students to use the solar field and its data to engage in hands-on learning about photovoltaics.

Highland View Academy will be among the first Adventist institutions to rely solely on sustainable energy.

Fresno Academy, an Adventist day school in Fresno, California, has used solar power for all its needs for about a decade, Hutchinson said. It sells its surplus into the California power grid, generating an extra income for the school.

Hutchinson said his academy might be able to make money off its solar panels one day, but Maryland state law currently does not allow it to sell any surplus.

He was not aware of any other Adventist institutions that depend on solar power.

But other schools are taking steps to become more environmentally friendly. Avondale College of Higher Education in Australia announced this month that it would begin monitoring its energy and water use in hope of cultivating a culture of individual responsibility and ultimately reducing costs.

“We need baseline data to efficiently control our energy and water costs,” Paul Hattingh, vice president for finance, infrastructure, and risk at Avondale, said in a statement. “Monitoring is the first step in helping our faculties and departments take responsibility for their own financial and environmental sustainability.”

A version of this story was published in the Columbia Union Visitor.