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Keokuk school district considering solar project to lower energy costs

Solar panels were installed at Hoerner YMCA in Keokuk in January. The YMCA expects to save a third of its electricity costs in the first year.
Will Buss
Tri States Public Radio
Solar panels were installed at Hoerner YMCA in Keokuk in January. The YMCA expects to save a third of its electricity costs in the first year.

Keokuk Community School District wanted to know how solar energy would enhance the district’s utility service and save money.

So the school board recently met with representatives from Norwalk, Iowa-based Red Lion Renewables, a renewable energy developer and financer, and Morhfeld Solar, a solar panel installer based in Fort Madison.

Now the district is interested in adding solar panels to five of its properties, including the district office, school bus garage, and high school football stadium.

Terry Dvorak, chief executive officer of Red Lion Renewables, said this plan would save the school district could save an estimated $500,000 over 30 years – and adding solar panels to the school district’s middle school may double the savings.

“It's a great way for a school or a city to get clean energy, do the right thing for the environment and for future generations,” Dvorak said. “It gives you a set price for your electricity for the next 20 years, so you can budget and have certainty and you don't have to come up with any money.”

Dvorak said planning and construction can take five to six months. Red Lion Renewables owns and operates the solar energy system, but clients also have the option to buy and own a system.

Clients do not have to come up with any capital to invest in solar power, according to Dvorak.

“So, no money out of pocket for them,” he said. “They're just agreeing to buy the electricity cheaper than they're buying it now and let us put our equipment on their roof on their ground in their parking lot, etcetera.”

Red Lion Renewables and Mohrfeld Solar have already installed solar panels for Southeastern Iowa Community College’s campuses in Keokuk and West Burlington and the Hoerner YMCA in Keokuk.

The panels were installed at the YMCA last January.

Chief Executive Officer Mark Smidt said the YMCA will save an estimated $15,000, or a third of its annual electricity costs, within the first year, with more savings in coming years.

“The solar field is working wonderfully and is providing savings now, and it will provide even more savings after this one-year transition,” Smidt said. “And further down the line, it will continue to provide even more savings for us, and we'll do some great things for our costs which frees up some money for us to use for programming and things like that.”

As a non-profit organization, the YMCA receives tax breaks. A solar energy provider can use those tax advantages to provide a nonprofit client with electricity at a lower rate.

“That's a win for the private business that it ends up providing the electricity, and it's a win for the nonprofit,” Smidt said.

Smidt also said the YMCA’s solar panels can provide its total electrical needs on any day. The solar panels can also transfer any unused electrical energy back into the power grid and provides clients a credit for that unused power and savings.

“Our savings are not as great in the near term, but they continue to add up year over year,” he said. “Most solar fields, they say, will last 20 years at least, and it's probably more like 30 years, and so the longer you have it there, the more savings you generate. We'll see some very significant savings over 20 or 30 years.”

Tri States Public Radio produced this story.  TSPR relies on financial support from our readers and listeners in order to provide coverage of the issues that matter to west central Illinois, southeast Iowa, and northeast Missouri. As someone who values the content created by TSPR's news department please consider making a financial contribution.