Note: This story appears in the Sunday, July 14 newspaper on Page A1.

STEWART — The switch was flipped on a new solar energy system at Federal Hocking Middle School and High School on Thursday.

For the past few years, Supt. George Wood and other district officials have worked to have solar panels installed on the building’s roof. Third Sun Solar recently completed the project with a total of 1,968 solar panels installed. The district celebrated the new project on Thursday, with former Gov. Ted Strickland among the featured guests.

According to Geoff Greenfield, president and co-founder of the Athens-based energy company, the Federal Hocking array is now the largest rooftop system in Athens County.

The panels are expected to offset more than two-thirds of the school’s energy usage and save the district an estimated $20,000 per year on energy costs, according to data provided by Third Sun Solar. The array can eliminate 583 metric tons of carbon emissions each year, the equivalent of the annual energy usage of 70 homes.

Strickland, who said he worked to change Ohio’s energy standards as governor, applauded the district and Wood for the decision to install solar energy.

“It is my hope that every school, George, that every district will choose to do what you and this district has done,” Strickland said. “And every school in Appalachia and every school throughout Ohio, one day will be producing solar energy — saving themselves money, educating their students and helping save our environment from the catastrophe that is upon us.”

Wood, who is retiring as superintendent at the end of this month, said the solar energy system has been a long-term goal of his dating back to when he was high school principal.

Wood echoed Strickland in outlining three reasons why he wanted to complete this project — to be financially efficient, for educational opportunities and to be good stewards of the environment.

“We will buy power for less money starting today,” Wood said. “Any money our district can save in terms of our daily expenditures, we can use those funds to buy books, to buy computers, to pay teachers and janitors ... instead of the money going to the utility company, we can keep some.”

It took quite a bit of planning and financial help to make this project possible. Third Sun Solar’s sister company, New Resource Solutions, invested in the project also.

The solar array at Federal Hocking is actually owned by the Foundation Renewable Energy Company (FREC). The school district paid $400,000 toward the project and will have the option in future years to buy the system outright. In the meantime, the district will pay FREC for the energy produced by the panels, which officials Thursday said will be cheaper per kilowatt/hour than the public utility rate.

“We put our money in the game so at a certain point, it will be possible for us to buy the system and get 70 percent of our power for nothing,” Wood said.

The statistics and data from Federal Hocking’s solar energy system will be available on the district’s website. The data will include carbon dioxide emissions saved, the equivalent of trees planted, current power generated, energy generated today, energy generated this month and lifetime energy generated.

Greenfield said if the school building is not using all the electricity produced from the solar panels, energy will enter the power grid and will then be used in another business or home. This is done through “net metering,” which allows owners of a solar energy system to be credited for the electricity that the panels are adding to the grid. Simply put, when the solar panels are producing more power than needed at the site, those electrons will be sent to the main power grid and turn the school’s meter backward, according to Greenfield.

Wood is hoping the district can use the solar energy system to teach students in science classes, but also social studies classes to cover environmental policies.

Some vocational students from the district even helped to install the panels this spring.

“When we can educate young people and send them out thinking this is just the norm, they will do even more,” Wood said. The outgoing superintendent added he is “pleased” for this to be among the last projects he’s worked on for the district.

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