NewsCovering Colorado


Energy upgrades save Florence schools big bucks

Florence Solar Class.jpg
Posted at 6:30 PM, Apr 22, 2021
and last updated 2021-04-22 22:02:13-04

FREMONT COUNTY, Colorado — Construction on roughly $3.2 million worth of energy efficiency upgrades at schools in the Fremont RE-2 School District just wrapped up. The district was able to make these improvements without having to ask voters for extra funds.

The improvements are estimated to save the district about $140,000 a year on their utility bills, and prevent roughly 1,200 tons of carbon emissions from entering the atmosphere. A key part of that savings is coming from a new 500-kilowatt solar array installed on land just north of the Florence Junior-Senior High School.

Principal Dan Melendrez sees additional benefits from the project beyond the cost savings.

"You save money, it helps the environment, and then we get kids out of the classroom," Meledrez said. "I'm sure they like being in the classroom but if they're able to get out and have another experience, they would like that as well."

Installation of the solar array became part of the lessons for Kristin Shapiro's Advanced Placement Environmental Science Classes.

"It was really student-driven, they started asking me about the solar array, Mrs. Shapiro, what's going on out there, do you know what's going on, and I was like let me check with Mr. Melendez," she said.

The solar array is wired to an internet router which lets the school monitor electricity production in real-time. The students are using that data as part of their end-of-year project.

"We have stats class that has learned and they can do different statistical things with the data that we're receiving," explained Maddaxx Howard, a senior in Shapiro's class. "We can learn how it's helping out school and our environment on the whole also."

In addition to the solar array, the district also replaced every light fixture with energy-saving LED bulbs and ballasts. Florence Elementary School also had a new energy-efficient boiler installed.

The district worked with the Colorado Energy Office for about a two-year period to pull together the money to make the upgrades a reality. It received $600,000 a BEST grant and another $580,000 worth of incentives from Black Hills Energy.

Ashley Brasovan, a spokesperson for the construction company McKinstry, explained that the school was able to take advantage of Energy Performance Contracting to pay for the improvements. Under this financial arrangement, the money the district saves on future utility bills repays the upfront cost of installation over a period of years.

"It's a really cool, budget-neutral project for the district," Brasovan said. "They didn't have to go to the voters for additional funds through a bond."

Work on the upgrades began last summer and wrapped earlier this month, just in time for Earth Day.