Farmington School District Celebrates Solar Project, One of the Largest of It's Kind in the U.S.

Thursday, Nov 5th | 12:45 pm

Farmington Central Schools' approximate two year long solar project has finally been completed as the school district unveiled its new solar panels Saturday.

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FARMINGTON — Farmington Central Schools' approximate two year long solar project has finally been completed as the school district unveiled its new solar panels Saturday.

The $1.8 million project includes 2,520 300-watt solar panels and is one of the largest solar projects at a K-12 school in the country. It was partially funded by a $1.15 million grant from theIllinois Clean Energy Foundation of Chicago.

Farmington's solar project is the largest solar project the Illinois Clean Energy Foundation has funded.

The project may potentially save the school district an estimated total of $1.5 million in five years.The Farnsworth Group and the Clean Energy Design Group (CEDG) were involved in the design and installation of the projects.

The panels are located on the south sides on the roof of all of the buildings and is expected to off set an estimated 30 percent or more of the school district's annual energy costs. They were installed on the south sides for solar collection optimization.

A kiosk will also be in the high school that will display the energy saved and produced through the panels in real time.

Illinois State University is working with Farmington Central Schools to bring renewable energy curriculum to the high school.

David Loomis, director of the Center for Renewable Energy at ISU, said they are funding a state-wide energy learning exchange in which they are partnering with energy utility companies to look at the future of energy and the energy work force.

Loomis added that solar installation has become more cost effective due to the Department of Energy starting initiatives to lower the cost of installation.

Farmington Superintendent John Asplund said the school district will be offering an alternative energy class, as well as an electrical class for the agriculture department in which students will be able to take apart solar panels and learn how they work. Asplund added they hope to have another renewable energy related class for K-12.

Sen. Dave Koehler (D-Peoria), who serves as the chairman of the environment and conservation committee, was also present at the celebration.

Steve Smith of the Farnsworth Group (at the podium), joined by Dan Griffin and James Holtzman of the Clean Energy Design Group, discusses Farmington's new solar panels during a celebration event at Farmington Central Schools Saturday.

"I'm just as excited as you can be for what you are doing here and I’m happy to be here," Koehler said.

State Rep. Mike Unes (R-East Peoria) was also scheduled to speak but was unable to attend.

Steve Smith, from the Farnsworth Group and James Holtzman and Dan Griffin from CEDG also spoke during the celebration, as well as Stan Ogden, vice president of customer service and metering operations at Ameren Illinois. They congratulated the Farmington school district on its achievement and step into the green world.

"The entire community has embraced this project really from day one," Griffin said, noting that wherever he went in Farmington, such as the grocery or hardware store, residents constantly asked about the solar system and how the installation was going.

"I'm very excited about the project," added Mayor Kenn Stufflebeam after the celebration. "It's a piece of what makes our community a great place."

A video was also shown of the solar project's progress, and the Farmington Central Schools' jazz band performed before the event began.

Dakota Horn, president of the Farmington board of education, said during Saturday's celebration that the project began two years ago when an individual approached school officials and said there were grants available for solar projects.

The school district then applied for the grant and after receiving it, proceeded with the project.

The district was awarded the grant in January 2014, and the first panel went up the following November. However, installation was delayed due to unfavorable weather and the completion date was moved back several months.

"(The project) is showing the students economic responsibility, green responsibility, environmental responsibility, and ultimately this was a great educational experience," Horn said, adding that it was educational not only for students, but teachers, school officials and community members as well.

"This was a unifying experience for all of us," Horn added. "We're excited for more projects like this in the future."

Student Matt Williamson, president of the high school's Student Senate, also spoke during the event as well.

"As for the community, it gives people something to be proud of," Williamson said. "It’s a big step forward."

Williamson also noted that the money saved can be used for additional learning materials to further enhance students' education.

In addition to saving the school district energy costs, the solar panels will help incorporate science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education into Farmington Central Schools' curriculum.

Beth Derry, regional superintendent of schools in Peoria, said that sometimes students cannot visualize science-related concepts in a traditional classroom and having the solar panels will help the students do that.

"You have planted a seed in your students that will continue to grow for years," Derry said.

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