That is the question put before the Bryant School Board on Thursday, when the panel heard information on different financing options for a proposed solar power plant, including the possibility of the district owning the facility.
No decision was made in Thursday’s meeting. Scott Beardsley, president of First Security Finance, said he was asked by Superintendent Karen Walters to provide a recap of the solar project’s financing options to the board.
Beardsley presented board members with information on different financing options for the board to consider when making a decision. The options include the district owning the solar array and Scenic Hill Solar owning the array.
The board heard a presentation during the June from Bill Halter, president and CEO of Scenic Hill Solar, who said the Bryant district could make thousands of dollars by incorporating solar power.
“We’re providing very conservative numbers for the amount of savings,” Halter said at the June meeting, adding that the company had completed a survey of the Bryant School District and determined that the district receives its power from two sources: First Electric Cooperative and Entergy. Halter said the Scenic Hill Solar plan could result in $6 million in savings from the First Electric Cooperative area and $4 million from the Entergy district over a 30 year period.
“The first year the district could see $100,000 in savings,” Halter said, noting that the district is expected to spend $1.6 million in 2023 on energy, including $893,254 with First Electric and $787,458 with Entergy.
The two options for the district were to either purchase their power from Scenic Hill Solar through an energy services agreement, or for the district to own its own solar power plant through a direct pay program with Scenic Hill Solar.
Beardsley recapped the June presentation Thursday. “We are evaluating whether or not we would be better off owning the equipment or let Scenic Hill own it and buy the electricity at a lower rate.”
Beardsley shared a powerpoint proposing that if the district chose the energy services agreement, the district would save more than $8 million over a 28-year period. Depending on which financing method the district chose to purchase the solar panel field, the savings over the same period would be either $11,383,079 or $8.5 million. The difference comes from two different financing options where the bigger down payment — $4.9 million versus $2.5 million — results in the bigger savings.
If the district were to purchase the solar field, then as of year 29 the schools would save nearly $1.6 million a year on energy costs. If they continued to purchase electricity from Scenic Hill, then the annual savings would be $567,886.
Beardsley noted that the projected savings were based on an estimated payment of $5.1 million from the federal government, but he noted the government’s refund is uncertain and could take up to two years to be paid back to the district.
“With the ESA, then Scenic Hill would get that money, in the form of a tax credit,” Beardsley said.
Deputy Superintendent Todd Sellers told the board Walters would hold more meetings on the solar project and would return to the board in August for further discussion of the project.