Solar Power a Reality at Centerburg Schools

The Centerburg schools’ renewable energy project, the largest school solar project in Ohio to date, was officially opened Saturday with a ribboncutting ceremony and tour of the solar array. With 4,200 solar modules on the ground at the high school and 1,400 on elementary school roof, the array represents over 1.5 megawatts of renewable energy, or enough power to provide about 80 percent of the electricity used by the schools over the course of the year.

David Dwyer, an energy engineer with Solar Planet Power, said all of the solar modules are wired together and are connected to three inverters which change the voltage from direct current to alternating current and transform the power so that it has the same characteristics as the grid power.

“It matches exactly,” he said. That’s important because any extra energy generated goes into the grid and is stored in net-metering bank. “After the sun goes down,” said Dwyer, “the school then draws from the bank before it has to buy more power from the electric company. None of the power goes to waste. It is either used right away or stored in the bank.”

From the inverters, the power goes underground to the school buildings and is expected to save the district approximately $50,000 in the first year.

Solar Planet’s president Siyd Tawana said Saturday’s ceremony was exciting. “Our vision is becoming a reality,” he said, “and we’ve proven that partnerships between public and private sectors can work well.”

Tawana spoke about how the project came about and said it is a step forward in making our country more energy independent.

Centerburg school superintendent Mike Hebenthal thanked the school board for being willing to step up and take a chance on the project, and also thanked those who worked on the project — Solar Planet, SME/Electrical Contractors and Ohio Indiana Roofing. He said the greatest thing about the $7 million project is that is was funded almost entirely by Charley Shin, Solar Planet’s founder and CEO.

“We had to pay $3,000 in legal fees for permits and things,” Hebenthal said, “and that’s it. I truly believe this is good for Centerburg schools and the Centerburg community. … And Solar Planet will maintain it all for 25 years.”

Hebenthal said saving $50,000 a year in energy costs equals putting a teacher in a classroom and the system is already working up to expectations.

“The other day,” he said, “the meter off the grid was at a dead stop.”