In a time of standardized testing, curriculum and even federally mandated lunch programs, Tim Troyer, facilities manager, and Jim Jones, superintendent, have forged a path for their rural Wisconsin school district that is anything but standardized. By experimenting and fostering a true spirit of innovation their path to energy sustainability can be summed up with a simple idea, turning little things into big things.
On a long, green path
Ironically the little things started several years ago with a school board rejection of a solar power initiative. Jones recalls, “We wanted to install our own solar panels in a field adjacent to our high school. At the time, our Xcel Energy Account Manager Oscar Brandser pointed out that we should look into being more energy efficient before trying to establish a new source of energy. He was so right. We started by doing little things, such as updating our heating equipment and better insulating our buildings. Then we took on lighting, doing a series of upgrades and improvements. The rebates and incentives helped, and more obvious was our lower energy use.”
Home grown sustainability efforts
Almost organically, a district-wide Energy Watchdog Committee came together. Teachers started to see teachable moments in some of the energy saving opportunities. As an example of the committee’s work, Jones said they looked at the energy consumption of the pop machines in all of the schools, “We had 14 pop machines around our buildings, some used for fund raising. But, we realized each was costing us $75 per year in electricity costs, more than the funds being generated. Now we’re down to two machines and we’re consuming less energy. Plus the kids are consuming much less sugar, so it’s a double win.”
Students have also been involved with bio diesel project to power school buses. They collect cooking grease from local restaurants and at one time even grew canola in local fields that they harvested and turned into oil. Currently the agriculture class is using an unused bathroom to grow lettuce with the use of fish tanks and special lighting, making it a continuous-flow solution hydroponic project.
An emphasis on watching the clock
More practical habits were also implemented. Welding class was rescheduled so it never was held between 11 a.m. -1 p.m. when peak (higher electric) rates were in effect. And washing athletic uniforms takes place after hours when rates are even lower.
Again their theme comes through, turning little things into big things.
Jones even monitored the lights in the school’s parking lot. “These lights were 4-5 percent of our entire electric bill. We changed the timing of when they come on and shut off. The savings were not huge, but consistent,” Jones said.
Solar gets another chance
Since 2010, the Stanley-Boyd School District has reduced their overall electric use by 27 percent. That adds up to 348,000 kilowatt hours, roughly the amount to power 35 homes for a year. Once again they decided to explore solar. However, estimates to create their own solar array were around $80,000. Plus, there would be construction worries and ongoing maintenance costs. Jones said, “We realized solar was not a do-it-yourself project for a school district.”
In early 2016, the Solar*Connect Communitysm program presented a new and attractive opportunity that required less than $18,000. Jones added, “And since we are buying into a project run by our utility, Xcel Energy, it was a partnership with real legitimacy. And the school board agreed.”
The school district subscribed to 10 kilowatts of solar power, which will be delivered via Solar*Connect Community. The solar gardens will be constructed this fall. Once operational, the school district will see a $74 monthly bill credit for the 25-year contract. The credit amount may go up but cannot go down. At the very least, the district will be credited $22,075 for a cost of $17,800, about a 20 percent value increase.
Added benefit: More Learning Opportunities
The school is looking to make education enrichment part of this solar equation. Sixth graders will be incorporated into the plan by visiting the solar community site and having long-term assignments around the solar effort. There’s math, physics, weather and earth science involved, but there’s also writing, social studies and government lessons that will be covered.
Advice for others
Jones said, “Solar*Connect Community makes financial sense. It’s a no-risk choice because it’s managed by Xcel Energy. And it works perfectly with a school district by providing some neat leaning opportunities.”
To learn more about Solar*Connect Community visit