"La Salle Catholic College Preparatory taps into solar energy"
Facilities manager Bill George was the main force behind La Salle Catholic College Preparatory’s solar panels, the latest project of its kind to hit Portland area schools. The black, thin-film panels could save the school about $10,000 to $15,000 in energy costs when the school purchases the system.
April 03, 2010, 7:00AM
MILWAUKIE -- At La Salle Catholic College Preparatory, it wasn't easy going green.
Former Principal Bill George first explored solar paneling when he picked up his facilities manager title two years ago, but financing shortages and a recession halted two projects in their tracks.
Turns out the third time was the charm for the Milwaukie school. In January, Oregon Electric Group installed a solar photovoltaic system on the roof of the school's 116,400-square-foot building, making it the latest Portland metro school to harness solar energy.
The black, thin-film solar panels were funded and are owned by FutureSource Capital Corp., a subsidiary of the North Dakota-based energy and transportation infrastructure company MDU Resources, but the school will have the option of purchasing the system in six years.
The 98-kilowatt system should provide about 10 to 20 percent of the school's power, according to George. If the school purchases the system from FutureSource, the estimates point to $10,000 to $15,000 in energy savings each year. The school pays about $75,000 for power annually, according to George.
La Salle paid no upfront costs for the project, but purchases the power from FutureSource, according to project manager Matt Saager of Oregon Electric Group, who helped broker the deal. Oregon Electric Group also is affiliated with MDU Resources.
La Salle's foray into solar energy follows other area schools. Clackamas High installed solar panels on its roof several years ago, and Portland Public Schools undertook one of the state's largest solar energy projects in 2009. George said he visited Portland for tips on installing La Salle's project -- Portland, too, used the thin-film panels and a third party for funding.
Other area institutions are looking to follow suit. Darwin Dittmar, business manager for the Gladstone School District, said it is trying to review its roof structure, a key step in the process.
According to Dittmar and others, schools are looking into these systems because of a growing curriculum emphasis on being green. "We want to walk the talk and use these as an educational tool," he said.
The parties funding these projects are also benefiting, said Oregon Electric Group's Saager. They get a return on investment from a one-time incentive payment from the Energy Trust of Oregon, business energy tax credits from the state, and investment tax credits from the federal government.
"It's a win for us, a win for Oregon Electric Group," said George. "It's just a winner on all counts."
The panels will serve not only as a smart economic move but also as a teaching point for La Salle students, according to George. "We're supposed to be, as an institution, good models for what we do in front of our students," he said. "We try to do that in every way we can, and we do that in regard to the use of energy."
The school's president, Denise Jones, said the new solar initiative will play into the school's mission, which urges students to be "good stewards of the earth."
In 1999, the school launched a capital plan that highlighted the necessity of energy-saving practices. The school invested in energy-efficient light for its gym and cafeteria through a partnership with the Oregon Energy Trust program and added a library and science wing that was built around natural lighting and occupancy sensors that shut off unused lights.
The school wants to integrate the new solar panels into lesson plans for science and environmental science classes. The school's Earth Club has talked with George several times about the project and a few students have actually been on the roof to see the panels.
Josh Hallquist, a senior in the Earth Club, applauded the school's initiative. "It's not something we're just talking about doing," Hallquist, 18, said. "It's something we're actually putting in action, and this actually happened. It's kind of nice seeing plans coming to fruition."
-- Nicole Dungca