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School district aims to produce more clean energy than it consumes

Midd-West School District in Middleburg, Pennsylvania currently generates more solar power than any other school district in the state.

This case study was originally published in the Powering a Brighter Future in Pennsylvania Report (2022)

Midd-West School District, a small district serving 2,100 students at four schools in the Middleburg Borough in rural, central Pennsylvania, currently holds the title for the largest school district solar array in the state. But it’s not stopping there. Solar installations offset 95% of the districtwide electricity costs. Midd-West is planning to add more solar panels to offset 110% of its electricity use with solar and to generate additional revenue by selling the excess energy back to the grid.

Midd-West saw the value of energy savings in 2013 when it implemented a comprehensive energy efficiency strategy at West Snyder Elementary School, such as swapping all the lighting to LEDs and switching from coal-powered heating to a geothermal energy system. The success of those cost-saving upgrades prompted the district to consider the potential opportunity to go solar and find more operational savings.

A school board member, who was pursuing a solar energy system at home, helped initiate the process of bringing a solar array to the district to save on operating expenses. Midd-West issued a bid for the district’s solar project in 2019, and the two solar arrays (totaling 2.56 MW) were installed and operational by November 2020. The main array (2.1 MW) at Middleburg Elementary School covers 6 acres behind the main school complex and athletic fields. The 1.25 acre array (460 kW) installed at West Snyder Elementary brings the district closer to its goal of having a zero energy building. If the district expands its solar installation to offset 100% of its electricity consumption with onsite clean energy, then the elementary school’s only remaining fossil fuel sources would be the propane it uses to fuel kitchen appliances and backup generators.

Midd-West was able to go solar with no upfront capital investment by utilizing a 28-year power service agreement (PSA) designed for the project by GreenWorks Development. In this third-party ownership arrangement, the customer makes monthly contract service payments for the use of the solar system. The district pays an average estimated solar-generated electricity cost of $0.037 per kilowatt-hour over the project term, and it receives 100% of the electricity cost savings and the value of the Solar Renewable Energy Credits (SRECs) generated by the system.

The district’s solar project provides predictable low-cost energy that reduces operational costs now and protects against rising electricity costs in the future. The energy savings enables the district to stretch its budget further and invest more into critical resources and services for students. To date, Midd-West has been saving $145,000 on its annual electric bill, and the annual savings will increase as the utility rates rise. After the fifth year of operation, the district will have the option to purchase the system using 100% financing, which is expected to further increase the cash flow to the district. 

The current 2.6 MW solar installation is estimated to save the district more than $9 million over the 40-year life expectancy of the solar panels. Midd-West is planning to add 437 kW of solar, at no upfront cost to the district, in order to reach 110% electricity offset. That addition would increase the estimated 40-year project savings by another $2.3 million.

Going solar was a huge advantage for the district in that it made 95% of our energy costs a known fixed cost that won’t fluctuate based upon the market. The savings, previously budgeted for energy expenses, can be diverted to things directly related to meeting student needs.” 

- Joe Stroup, Midd-West School District, Superintendent