By BROOKE ROBINSON, for THE LACONIA DAILY SUN
MEREDITH — The Inter-lakes School District is shining a light on sustainability by making energy-saving improvements to buildings. The high school has already cut its electric bill by about 40 percent by converting all of the lighting to LEDs, which create much less heat, last longer and draw significantly less electricity.
The improvements will be paid for completely with the money saved by the district in energy costs with no cost to taxpayers.
The most recent project is the installation of solar panels between the soccer and football fields of Inter-Lakes High School. These panels are able to produce 430 kilowatts of electricity. Facilities Director Chris Wald said that with the new solar panels "We're almost going to be able to produce enough electricity here to use for the entire school."
In addition to the new solar panels, the school district is saving money by producing hot water with solar-thermal energy on the roof of the elementary school and by using biomass boilers for all of the heating in both the elementary school and the high school. These pellet burners do save a little money, but more importantly keep these buildings from being tied to fossil fuels. Because the burners were added to the buildings instead of simply replacing the oil boilers, the district is not tied into one form of heating.
Having both types of burners is also a valuable teaching tool for students interested in sustainability. In an email, Assistant Superintendent Trish Temperino said, "Our science teacher began taking students to the boiler room in order to see, learn, and interact with the pellet boilers and exploring the differences between the traditional oil burner and the pellet burner." The sustainability projects therefore serve two purposes: making the school district more environmentally friendly while educating students in greener energy methods.
Thanks to creative accounting and a well-thought-out plan, the entire project will be paid for without taking a penny from taxpayers.
"This is a $5 million job that we're able to finance over a 15-year period at a 2.5 percent interest rate," Wald explained. "The amount of money that we save in electricity and fuel oil every year pays for our finance and our payment."
This amounts to over $400,000 in savings a year due to these changes.
Utility companies across the country are tasked with producing a certain portion of their electricity in a renewable way. "The Public Utilities Commission pays us solar renewable energy certificates and they're able to say that they have it in their portfolio now," Wald said.
The Inter-Lakes School District was awarded the Northeast Energy Efficiency Partners Northeast Business Leaders for Energy Efficiency honor in June due to their sustainability efforts. This honor is given to businesses with long-term efforts to improve major energy systems that demonstrate leadership to advance efficiency in the community.
An important part of these efforts is to bring to life sustainability for students.
"It's another part of what the school is trying to bring to the kids," Wald said. A greenhouse built behind the elementary school is bringing hands-on learning to students. In order to provide the greenhouse with soil and resources needed, a compost bin was constructed this summer.
"There is a two-fold goal of composting: reducing the amount of waste produced while educating students to a practice that contributes to a healthy environment," Temperino emphasized. Elementary students are able to experience how food grows and what it takes to prepare the soil for planting.
"We are looking to create an educational environment that promotes sustainability, local actions, and global awareness," Temperino said. "This will be done by integrating the sustainable projects into school curricula. Our thoughts are to make our buildings living breathing classrooms by using our systems to teach experientially rather than just theoretically."
Solar panels are being installed at Inter-Lakes High School. It is part of an overall plan to make the district's schools more energy efficient while saving costs to taxpayers. (Brooke Robinson/for The Laconia Daily Sun)
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