EAST BLOOMFIELD — After discussing and researching the possibilities of harnessing green-energy options, officials in the Bloomfield Central School District made the move toward renewable energy as part of the 2014 capital project.
Now dozens of rows of solar panels sit on the rooftops of the district's elementary and high schools, while two school buses powered by propane gas have been introduced to the district's fleet.
"This is part of the push for our school district to go green — to be as green as we can," said Bloomfield Central School District Superintendent Michael Midey. The move is expected to save on a portion of the district's energy expenses as well.
Crunching numbers
Each solar photovoltaic or solar PV system — one on each school — is composed of 192 panels. The system can produce up to 58 kilowatts an hour of power. That has the power to light up 580 100-watt light bulbs for an hour.
A total of 3,700 kilowatt-hours of energy has been produced since the system went online a few months ago, according to a gauge at the Elementary School that records how much solar energy is captured by the solar panels.
The district partnered with O'Connell Electric Co.'s Rochester Solar Technologies Division, based in Victor, to put in the system. Each 58 kilowatt-hour system cost $141,173 to get online.
The cost to the district was covered mainly by grants and aid.
The district received a New York State Energy Research and Development Agency incentive that totaled $54,272 for each system. This resulted in a net cost to the district of $175,402 total — $87,701 per system.
Further, according to Midey, the district also received building aid on the $87,701 net cost for each system.
"Our building aid for the PV systems is 80.3 percent," the superintendent said. "That means for every dollar we spent on the systems we will receive $0.803 cents back in state aid. We don't get this all back at once. The money comes back in state aid payments over the next 15 years."
After all is said and done, the total cost of each PV system to the district after the NYSERDA grant and state aid is $17,277.
Also, district officials expect the systems to produce 6 percent to 10 percent of the district's electrical need each year. The district spends approximately $184,000 on energy annually, so the savings should range from $11,040 to $18,400 over that period of time, Midey said.
If the district experiences the 6 percent reduction in energy costs as anticipated, the system could pay for itself within three and a half years or within two years at the 10 percent reduction.
Power through propane
The energy alternatives don't end with solar, as Seth Clearman, the district's head bus driver, successfully wrote a grant application that helped secure two Blue Bird propane autogas buses.
"Propane buses have been around for awhile, but there was a real issue with fueling them and with the quality of the motors," Midey said.
The technology has improved, and aside from the approximately 67 percent reduction in the greater carbon footprint output that is produced by a diesel bus engine, propane buses offer a variety of means to cut back on costs around the bus garage.
According to Clearman, a diesel bus requires 21 quarts of oil every oil change, which need to be done every 3,000 miles.
"It's 7 quarts of oil for a propane gas engine, and you can run about 5,000 miles on a propane bus because it burns so much cleaner," Clearman said.
A diesel bus costs the district approximately $105,000 and approximately $7,300 more for a propane bus, which was an additional amount covered through the grant.
"We're probably going to see savings for us around $3,000 a year in fuel costs alone," Clearman said.
"But we're looking at green, we're looking at reducing our carbon footprint as the main priority," he added.
According to Blue Bird, compared with gasoline, propane produces 60 percent less carbon monoxide, 12 percent less carbon dioxide, 20 percent less nitrogen oxide and up to 25 percent less greenhouse gasses.
The response from students regarding the propane-powered buses has been positive, as the noise produced by a diesel bus is excessive in comparison to propane.
“It's sounds like a car,” Clearman said as he fires up a propane bus.
"If you've been on a diesel bus, you know the difference," Midey added.
Further movement toward green
The district might not be done with the solar-power realm either. The 2016 capital project recently approved could include more solar power panel placement if the district can find more places to put them and it remains efficient.
"We had 123 people participate in a survey (regarding the 2016 capital project), and the overwhelming majority wanted to explore more green energy," Midey said.
Bloomfield Central School District is not alone in the pursuit either.
"More and more schools are talking about it," Midey said. "I've had a number of inquiries from other schools that want to come to see our system."