New London Spicer School District

Looking to make local power a huge taxpayer-saver

The New London Spicer School (NL-S) District, in the middle of lake and river country 100 miles west of Minneapolis, is known for being a girls’ basketball powerhouse. Since 1985 the team has taken 16 trips to the State Tournament and has brought home two State Championships. And soon, thanks to the District’s leadership, the school may also be known as a champion for local renewable energy in rural Minnesota.

Clean Energy as a Cost-Saver

Early in 2016 the NL-S School Board reviewed a plan to make a $1.2 million investment in a 500kW rooftop solar installation that would be spread across Prairie Woods Elementary School as well as atop the performing arts center currently under construction. A USDA Renewable Energy for America Program (REAP) grant could also provide up to $500,000 for the project.

One of the most significant monthly costs for many public institutions is their utility bill. With large and often inefficient buildings, electric use can tear through public budgets. Demand charges, or charges incurred when a big institutional or commercial electric customer uses a large, peak amount of energy, accounted for over half of this District’s electric bill. Considering the significant costs public institutions incur for energy, it is no wonder that many schools across the country are considering local energy projects to save taxpayers money.

Briana Sanchez/ Tribune Paul Carlson, New London-Spicer superintendent, Megan Field, director of communications for the district and Josh Schwinghammer, project manager look over the theater construction Wednesday at New London-Spicer High School. Carlson says this is where students come to get the best view of the construction.

Briana Sanchez/ Tribune
Paul Carlson, New London-Spicer superintendent, Megan Field, director of communications for the district and Josh Schwinghammer, project manager look over the theater construction Wednesday at New London-Spicer High School. Carlson says this is where students come to get the best view of the construction.

An Educational Tool, Too

NL-S Superintendent Paul Carlson describes clean energy as “a great learning opportunity” for students. The district has been consulting with Arvind Auluck-Wilson from nearby Milan, MN — a member of the Kandiyohi County Economic Development Commission’s renewable energy committee — since 2013, when the District first became interested in clean energy. “’You’d be planting the magic bean here,’” Auluck-Wilson told the board, noting that younger students can study the simple aspects of weather and older students can delve deeper into the physics concepts of the turbine, the wonders of renewable energy,” reported the West Central Tribune.

Barriers from the utility

Unfortunately, despite having 11 separate meters (or accounts), the School District is regarded by Kandiyohi Power Cooperative as one member and therefore an installation of the size planned by District leaders was not eligible for Minnesota’s net metering law. Not having the ability to sell excess power back to the grid through net metering changed the payback period and the District’s considerations. And the Kandiyohi co-op was unwilling to re-designate the school district to make its solar project feasible.

Carlson says that the District is exploring the implementation of energy storage technology to help give it a better return on investment. “We are in the process of monitoring a few spots in our buildings that will impact our demand charges,” he says. “Eventually we will be using battery storage to further reduce our demand charges at peak time.”

Schools can play a vital role in both educating students about clean energy as well as leading public institutions into the local renewable energy economy. For New London Spicer, it’s sure to be a slam dunk!

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