By Todd McHale Staff writer
SOUTHAMPTON — Soon, clear and sunny days will mean savings for the school district.
A solar array under construction on the grounds of School No. 2 and School No. 3 is expected to cut the district’s electricity costs by tens of thousands of dollars every year for more than a decade.
The 554-kilowatt system is projected to save the district $1.05 million in energy costs over a 15-year agreement with Marina Energy and solar provider Ray Angelini Inc.
Under the terms of the agreement, Marina Energy will own the system and sell the electricity to the school district at a discounted rate. Angelini is responsible for designing, constructing and maintaining the system.
School board President Betty Wright called the solar array a “win-win situation for everyone” with the reduction in costs and energy consumption.
“When the system is operational, it will generate approximately 98 percent of the electricity used in School No. 2 and School No. 3, all without impacting the environment,” Wright said.
Workers began construction of the project last month on a tract adjacent to the schools and administration building and expect to finish by the end of the year. When completed, the array will have more than 2,100 solar panels, according to Joe Joyce, senior vice president of sales and marketing at Ray Angelini.
“That will generate almost all the electricity the schools use,” Joyce said.
Superintendent Michael Harris said the district will save between $65,000 and $70,000 a year.
“That’s significant for a school district this size,” Harris said. “That’s two or three mobile computer labs or a teacher.”
Stephen Poniatowicz of Marina Energy said the company looks forward to the system being turned on and saving the district money.
“Marina is proud to be a partner with Southampton schools to help drive the cost of energy down,” said Poniatowicz, the company’s vice president and chief operating officer.
Angelini crews last week worked to complete the racks that will hold the solar panels.
Foreman Mike Stauffer said the weather has cooperated and allowed the workers to get a good jump on completing the project.
The system will be the third the company has constructed for a school district in Burlington County. The others are in Medford and Medford Lakes.
“We’ve done them all over,” Stauffer said. “Right now, we have huge projects in the Gloucester Township school system, Gloucester County College, Gloucester Institute of Technology. Those are just a few we have going on at the moment.”
For nearly two years, the district and its partners worked to get all the approvals needed and space on the grid. They even agreed to shift the solar array out of the Vincentown Village Historic District, which has been entered in the state and national registries of historic places.
“Bringing this project to construction has been a long journey,” Joyce said. “It’s a testament to the dedication of the Southampton Board of Education to both save taxpayers money and provide an environmental educational opportunity.”
He credited district officials for “continuing to have the patience to see it through. It took a lot of cool heads.”
Even though the system is expected to be turned on after the first of the year, the project will not be completed until spring, when crews put in some landscaping to buffer the solar array and provide educational opportunities for students and residents.
“The landscaping will include wild grasses, wildflowers and shrubbery,” Harris said. “We are planning on using this area for environmental education classes.”