Going green to save green: North Putnam Community Schools switching to solar to save long-term

PUTNAM COUNTY, Ind. – It's a first for Indiana: A school district is setting up a system that will have two of its buildings completely reliant on sunshine. It's a big idea that could lead to big savings.

North Putnam Community Schools is building a gigantic solar farm on a 5-acre plot of land just north of the middle and high schools. It’ll have 5,000 panels once it’s finished.

One of the leaders of the company helping out says it’ll be well worth it.

“We’ll create enough electricity here that offsets all of their consumption,” Johnson Melloh Solutions VP of Operations Jami Krynski said. “(On) January 1 we will be feeding the school electricity from this facility.”

It makes North Putnam the first school district in the state to run two of its buildings completely off “net zero solar energy,” a system that will allow the schools’ electricity meters to actually run backwards. That means a credit from Duke Energy – meaning Duke will actually be paying the schools for that energy.

“It’s going to run (the) football lights, (and the) baseball lights,” North Putnam Community Schools Superintendent Dan Noel said.

The project is slated to save the district a lot of money. It involves the district routing what it normally spends every year in electricity – $200,000 – to create the solar farm.

The panels will be “paid off” in 20 years, but they won’t need to be replaced for 40.

“There’s only a few ways to actually gain money (within a school district). One is by how many students you have in your school. Well, we have a declining enrollment,” Noel said. “When they came to us and said, ‘You could do this and you can lock your energy bill in for the next 25 years at this rate,’ well, that meant that all of a sudden we can generate some more money.”

The money will go toward teacher raises, among other items.

The solar farm idea is already taking ground in other districts, too.

Superintendent Noel says right now, he’s getting three to four phone calls a week with questions from other districts that are considering switching to solar power.

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