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New York Mills and Verndale schools to receive solar panel grants

Solar for Schools is designed to provide incentives for installation of solar energy systems on Minnesota public K-12 schools as well as state colleges and universities, according to a Minnesota Department of Commerce news release. The grants cover 25 to 95% of the project cost.

Solar plant with the wind farm in the summer season, hot climate
New York Mills and Verndale School Districts are planning for solar panels on their roof with a 2022 grant from the Minnesota Department of Commerce.
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NEW YORK MILLS — In the first round of grants for a Solar for Schools program , New York Mills and Verndale School Districts will receive project funding to add solar panels at their schools. Both districts are working with iDEAL Energies of Minneapolis as one of the companies partnering with districts across the state on the program.

Solar for Schools is designed to provide incentives for installation of solar energy systems on Minnesota public K-12 schools as well as state colleges and universities, according to a Minnesota Department of Commerce news release. After submitting proposals, the full grant applications for the selected school districts are due May 31. Districts can apply for the program during two annual periods. The grants cover 25 to 95% of the project cost.

Sixty school districts in Minnesota have solar energy on their rooftops or adjacent land, according to the release. The program would help double the number of school districts. Each district will also energize their curriculum with information on renewable energy.

New York Mills Public School

To capture the most sun rays, and utilize their available space, New York Mills Superintendent Blaine Novak and buildings and grounds supervisor Jason Perala said the solar panels will rest on one of their higher roof points. Students won’t be able to get as close a look as Novak would like, though fifth through eighth grade STEM courses will have additional curriculum on solar energy.

“The unfortunate part about that is the only way we’re going to get students to be able to view that is likely by using our drone,” Novak said. “We’ll take drone photos or video and they can see what’s up there.”

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The grant of $102,000 funds the solar panel installation costs with future energy savings applied towards the system cost. Novak said the panels are a 25 year system that will pay for itself within 20 years. The district anticipates over $100,000 of savings.

A community member sparked the idea of energy savings, whether with wind or solar energy, a few years ago after the school board approved their building project. Energy costs are the second highest cost following payroll for school districts, according to the iDEAL Energies website.

“It’s just the right next step,” Novak said. “If we can reduce energy costs that’s great but if we can also decrease our dependency on other energy that’s the positive thing. It’s just the right thing to do right now.”

While supply chain impacts make an exact timeline difficult, Novak said the “ideal” is to have solar panels installed over the summer and fall this year.

Verndale Public School

While in the “preliminary stages,” Verndale Superintendent Paul Brownlow said the district hopes to add their solar panels on the roof of the elementary portion. The plan includes 4,000 square feet of panels, which won’t be easily seen from the ground.

The district is looking to save money on energy costs and benefit the student learning experience. The school board has helped with questions and concerns before the district fully commits, according to Brownlow. With iDEAL Energies maintaining the system, the hope is for a simple process, including no snow removal due to the panel design.

“We need to make sure that it’s going to be a win for the school district,” Brownlow said. He added the district’s $114,000 grant is one of the larger amounts.

The district is also working on an indoor air quality project, which will add rooftop units. Brownlow hopes the added energy costs will be reduced with the addition of solar panels. Some Verndale landowners also hope to work on their own solar panel project.

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The turbine has been out of commission now for many months but was back in action this week.

With a real life science experiment on a grand scale, students will learn about renewable energy in an exciting way. Students, teachers, parents and community members can also utilize a link on the school website to see the energy produced with their solar panels.

New curriculum will add to renewable energy lessons, especially for elementary and high school students.

“I think that will actively engage our students because they’ll actually get to see what’s happening here,” Brownlow said. “With more farms adding solar panels and wind towers … kids get to see that but to know that … those panels right now are on top of us on the roof … what a neat experience for our kids too. It makes it relevant, real-life learning.”

Rebecca Mitchell is a Multimedia Reporter for the Wadena Pioneer Journal and Perham Focus. She loves capturing local stories through words, photos and videos, and providing resources for the community.
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