$1.5 Million in Solar Panels Free to Hawkins Co. Schools

by M. Woodward

What if you could find a deal in which your county schools could rent roof space and get l.5 to 2 million dollars worth of solar panels installed on top of 3 of your schools for free? And, the schools would get paid $14,000 per year for the roof rentals? Would you go for a deal like that?

According to William Shedden, Director of Maintenance for Hawkins County Schools, this is exactly the deal that came their way and you bet they went for it. It took long hours of work from the superintendent’s office, members of the school board, administrators, teachers, parents, and private investors for the project to succeed.

The project is complete. Bulls Gap School, Church Hill Intermediate School, and Clinch School are now topped with solar panels valued at approximately 1.5 to 2 million dollars at no cost to the school system thanks to a Morristown company’s financing scheme.

Hawkins County Schools was able to take advantage of the old Green Partner’s program sponsored by the Tennessee Valley Authority by renting their roof space for the installation of solar panels at the three schools.

Director of Maintenance Bill Shedden says, “The money came from a third party investor. Hannah Solar installed the equipment. So all of this that you see is no money out of the school system’s pocket, whatsoever.

The way the financing works, is a company arranges a deal with a bank, or it could be a for-profit company that needs tax credits to reduce their income tax. The for-profit company provides the up-front financing for the solar system and hires a firm to install the solar panels. The tax credits and depreciation reduce the business taxes and the company making the arrangements, called the third party, gets the income from the sale of the solar power to TVA. The school system does not get a lower energy bill, but does get the rental income. After a set period, the third-party owner will offer to sell the system to the school system at a significantly reduced price. This is a great deal all around.

Currently there are 833 solar panels on top of Church Hill Intermediate School and every day these panels produce enough energy to power 3 or 4 average size households. At that rate the TVA will pay Hawkins County Schools 14 thousand dollars a year and this is a ten year agreement that includes that Hawkins County Schools will pay nothing to install the current and future panels.

But Hawkins County doesn’t want to stop there. They have plans to add solar panels to the roofs of 10-13 other schools in the county.

They have plans to set up a website for the students and for members of the community to use that will show exactly how much energy is produced everyday by the solar panels. They are also asking for everyone to ‘think outside the box” and come forth with creative ideas to help with the continuation of this project.

Stephen Levy, technical director for the Tennessee Solar Energy Association, says that he and recent UT business graduate, Stefan Partin, and Solar Association founder, Jim Hackworth, visited Hawkins County to view the installation of the solar panels and were “blown away with the beauty and resourcefulness”.

“This is what we want to replicate in all school systems across America,” he said. “There is nothing to stop solar energy from becoming the source for energy in our future. We are pleased, very pleased,” he said.