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Tamaqua approves solar project

The Tamaqua Area School Board officially approved to move on with its solar panel project after a board meeting earlier this month. The decision came after a few months of planning, presentations and number crunching.

“We ran the numbers and it was almost a no-brainer,” said board President Larry Wittig. “We’re going to essentially have free power for the next 40 years. We’re also uniquely positioned because our footprint has just perfect areas to put the arrays in. It’ll be minimal in terms of site preparation, which also helps the bottom line.”

Greenworks Development, the company that will be working with the district, has both visited the district and given many presentations in front of the school board. CEO Doug Neidich and his team are located in Mechanicsburg, and have done over $170 million worth of arrays over the past 12 years. The company has done roughly 25 projects in Pennsylvania and New Jersey.

“Anytime you can save a couple of hundred-thousand bucks a year, it’s a good deal,” Wittig said. “A byproduct of this, I don’t want to speak for the Tamaqua borough, but we may partner with them as well, and they are considering this as well, as are a lot of school districts as a function of our lead. So once again, Tamaqua is in the lead, and we’ll be happy to help anyone go green if they so choose.”

The official name of the service agreement will be under Tamaqua SD Solar Partners LLC. Wittig said the project should move quickly, as there is much financial incentive to start before the year is over.

“The 30 percent tax credit is until Dec. 31, 2019. It then drops to 26 percent, which is $200,000. … I would suspect that there would be a flurry of activity in the solar field, particularly, because of these credits drying up. That basically facilitates what may not be economically feasible, makes it now feasible, and people are going to jump on board.”

Wittig said about 12 years ago, the district looked into going solar and it wasn’t profitable. During that process, Tamaqua converted all of the buildings to geothermal, which bodes well for the project now.

Financially, the district will pay 13 cents per kilowatt for 40 years, which could be a potential savings of $10 million. In comparison, Tamaqua’s average yearly electric cost to PPL is approximately $335,000.

In addition, energy credits will be received for six years. At the end of six years, the district would buy the panels for $2.7 million. There is a 20-year warranty on all of the panels, and there is a 30-year power output warranty. The developer owns and maintains the grid for the first six years.

The agreement has to be approved by the Public Utility Commission and meet the interconnection standards of the Department of Energy. Tamaqua is planning to break ground for the panels in either September or October.