Millcreek-West Unity Schools solar field

Millcreek-West Unity Schools on Tuesday held a symbolic groundbreaking for a new solar field to be located west of the school. From left are district Superintendent Jim Wyse; Treasurer Traci Thompson; En-Trust salesman Pat Weidenhammer; school board member Brian Wieland; En-Trust Engineering and Operations Manager Jeffrey Feasby; school board members Randy Malhman and Sarah Carothers; school board president Heather Jones; school board member David Chester; and Inovateus Solar Vice President of Business Development Nathan Vogel. RON OSBURN/Staff

WEST UNITY — The number of schools powered by the sun is growing. More than 5,500 U.S. schools use solar power, about 5 percent of all K-12 U.S. schools.

Add Millcreek-West Unity Schools to that list.

Tuesday, district officials held a brief symbolic groundbreaking for a new solar panel field to be built on part of a six-acre parcel west of the school and the schools’ ball fields.

The field, with 2,160 solar panels, will produce over 1 million kilowatts of power annually, which is about 77.5 percent of the district’s power needs, according to Millcreek-West Unity Superintendent Jim Wyse and Jeffrey Feasby, engineering and operations manager for En-Trust, LLC, the district’s energy consultant and a Hamilton, Indiana-based solar technology firm.

The solar array is being installed by Inovateus Solar LLC, a South Bend, Indiana-based solar development and supply company.

Inovateus Solar Vice President of Business Development Nathan Vogel said actual ground breaking could take place in about two weeks, provided the ground is not frozen, and if the project begins this month, it could be substantially complete by March, weather permitting.

The solar panels will initially be leased by the district and a buyout option is available under terms of the lease. Energy produced by the field remains at a fixed cost of 9 cents for 25 years, said Feasby, adding the field has a “life” of about 40 years.

According to Feasby, Millcreek-West Unity Schools will save $318,894 in the first 10 years of operation, and $4,788,536 over 30 years, during which time the district would take ownership.

In June, the school board formally purchased approximately seven acres of land owned by Jim Rupp at a cost of $6,000 per acre for the solar field, which will encompass about 3.5 acres. Otherwise, the project requires no other upfront expense for Millcreek-West Unity Schools while providing reduced costs and energy predictability for the foreseeable future, Wyse said.

“We’re excited for the district and for the community. We have a great source of energy to meet our needs for years to come and we reduce our energy costs. It’s a win-win,” Wyse said.

Tinora, Wauseon, Holgate and Liberty Center are some of the other local school districts that have developed solar fields.

Feasby also noted that En-Trust LLC retro-fitted 1,550 light fixtures with new LED lights inside and outside of the Hilltop school building. The $227,000 LED lighting upgrade was performed this past summer, when students were out of the building, and is funded completely from energy savings and reduced electric costs, Feasby said.

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