The Panther Valley School Board on Thursday voted to apply for a $1 million state grant to help offset the $3.5 million cost of a proposed solar energy program.

The project, which would place solar panels on surplus athletic fields near the middle school, is projected to save the district $632,000 over 20 years, said Weston Ernst, regional sales manager for Schneider Electric of Harrisburg, which would install the system.

School director Roy Angst voted against applying for the grant, citing concerns that the project would impinge on fields used for soccer. Further, he said, the district should be focused on the elementary school, where a number of students are housed in portable classrooms. School director Anthony DeMarco was also ambivalent because of the elementary space situation.

However, business manager Kenneth Marx Jr. said the panels would take up a 90-by-60 square yard space, leaving "plenty of room for soccer."

Board President Jeff Markovich said the project would save the district taxpayers money.

Ernst said the 1 megawatt system would produce about 1.2 million kilowatt hours per year.

He said the school district could apply for a low-interest federal loan, and receive federal energy credits to further control costs. The savings would be well worth the effort, he said.

Over 20 years, the district could save $632,000 about 4.2 mills. Over 30-35 years, the system could save the district 19 mills, once the debt is paid off, Ernst said.

"Long term, you have the opportunity of strategy here to help plan for the future, to help generate revenue for the school district," he said. At the same time, Ernst said, "there is zero ... cost on an annual basis."

The project is anticipated to offset about 80 percent of the electricity costs for the middle and high schools, he said in response to questions from school director Irene Genther.

Currently, the annual power bill for the high school and middle school is $136,000 a year.

Angst and Genther wanted the grant application to not include the phrase "surplus athletic fields." Ernst and Markovich explained that the grant application must include a location.