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The Cost of the Enka Solar Panels

By Catherine Hunter –

In support of Buncombe County School Board member Lisa Baldwin, several concerned citizens are raising alarm about the cost of solar panels proposed for the Enka High school roof. Using Facebook, blogs, news media and public comment, Baldwin and others have expressed concern that the solar panels project has cost Buncombe County Schools (BCS), “… almost a quarter of a million dollars.”

Yet the amount the Board of Education has currently spent on the solar panel project is a total of $53,090 with a refund coming of $10,000. This makes the total spent so far on the solar project $43,090, not the $236,000 figure being rumored.

In an August 20, 2012 interview with a local TV news station, Baldwin said, “I know for sure we spent $236,000, almost one quarter of a million dollars, looking into the solar, along with other improvements at the school and putting a new roof on top of an upgrade for the solar project.”

Baldwin has continued to express concern in board meetings, even taking time to address the issue during public comment. However, included in this total is the cost of the roof and other studies along with the cost of the solar project. A breakdown of this figure sheds light on the entirety of the project.

BCS Facilities Director Tim Fierle said the Enka High School 30-year-old roof was in the process of being replaced before the idea of solar panels was ever a factor. BCS has 3.85 million square feet of roof which they replace sections of each year in order to keep the roofs in current repair. The BCS maintenance staff, which does most of the work, had completed a section of the Enka High School roof two years ago and is planning to replace another section next year.

Along with the roof replacement, BCS looked at the 30-year-old HVAC system, which included some windows specially designed to work with the system. The board commissioned an Advanced Planning Study which cost $52,100 for the work. The study contained nothing about solar panels.

Fierle said once they realized the new HVAC system, which was up to current code, would cost more to operate, they considered alternative ways to support the additional cost.

“We brought to the board the option of a solar component to offset the new costs,” Fierle said.

At that time the board agreed to commission a study to look into the solar option. Phase one of the study explored whether it was feasible to put solar panels on the Enka High School roof. Phase two prepared the bid documents for the project and phase three provided for the administration of the construction.

Only phase one and two of the study have been completed and the total cost spent on phases one and two is $51,500. The board has not spent the additional $13,000 for phase three. In addition, Progress Energy has offered a $10,000 Design Assistance Grant for which BCS has already applied and expects to receive soon.

Fierle said in addition to the study, BCS has spent $1,591 on equipment in case they went ahead with the solar panel project. He added that they chose to replace a larger section of the roof and use a 30-year warranty roof rather than a 20-year roof because of the possibility of the solar panels.

The original 20-year roof would have cost $120,000, while the larger 30-year roof cost $227,100 minus credits totaling $5,900 they received when the solar project did not go through. This brought the cost of the new, larger, 30-year roof to $221,200.

Fierle said FLS, a solar developer was going to install the panels at no cost to the school board. According to Fierle, this is commonly done by developers because they can receive tax breaks and sell the generated power back to the electric company. However, most developers look for multimillion dollar projects, whereas the Enka project was only about a million dollars.

When the BCS board did not take immediate action, FLS’s investor, interested in the smaller Enka project, took their funds elsewhere. Fierle said the board still has some possible investors looking at the project.

The solar panels would allow BCS to cut the costs of running the HVAC heating system for Enka High School and would provide hot water for the school’s other needs such as dish washing, restrooms and gym showers.

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