Unity Christian School goes solar

Unity Christian School get a solar panel project underway that should save a significant amount on power bills

Valerie Wells

DECATUR — People who live in the neighborhood of Unity Christian School on Mound Road have been hearing metallic banging for a few days and possibly wondering what’s happening.

The school is having solar panels installed in the space behind the football and baseball fields. Unity is a ministry of the Lutheran School Association.

Solar power

Solar panels are being installed at Unity Christian School — the Lutheran School Association — on Mound Road.

Valerie Wells

“We’re finally getting started,” said Executive Director Brian Booth. We’ve been in the process of getting it worked out for over a year, and now that the work has finally started, we’re hoping to be operational by the end of calendar year. It will be a huge help to our ongoing costs for utilities.”

Solar panel installation

A machine pounds the supports into the ground at Unity Christian School. The supports hold the 2,810 solar panels that are being installed to power the school.

Valerie Wells

The project will cover three acres of the school’s 54-acre campus, some of which are already allowed to crops, but will not inhibit the use of the sports facilities or the school’s needs. Even with the baseball field adjacent to the solar panel field, it would take a superstar player to hit a baseball far enough to reach the panels.

There is no upfront cost to the school or the supporting Lutheran churches, Booth said.

“The solar company comes in and pays for the entire thing and we have the power purchasing agreement, so once it’s generating power we purchase it at a reduced rate,” Booth said. That’s why for us it was a no-brainer. No cost up front and we get to lower our power bill probably by half or more once it’s operating.”

The school had already tried other ways of cutting down on power bills, such as installing LED lighting, but those things didn’t save as much as administrators hoped.

The purchasing agreement also comes with a guaranteed lower rate from Ameren Illinois, so during off-peak times, when the panels aren’t producing enough power and the school has to depend on Ameren service, there’s still a substantial cost savings, he said.

Standard Solar is the company providing the panels, and the deal was brokered by general contractor CQI, said Ed Keane, the school’s facilities manager. The project will have 2,810 panels in total and is located just south of the ball fields. It will include a permanent roadway providing Standard Solar access to the panels in case they are damaged and need replacement, and a fenced area for the storage of tools.

The panels will be in place for 25 years under Standard Solar’s ownership and at the end of that time, the school will have the option to purchase them, Keane said.

“We are one of the few, if not the only private school in Central Illinois doing this project,” Keane said.

The panels will also provide an educational opportunity. Students will be able to learn about solar power, both from benefiting from the project and through Zoom calls with one of the engineers on a regular basis. They’ll also have a real-time website to study, which will show how much power the panels are producing at any given moment. The power won’t be stored in batteries, Keane said. Power will be produced and used at the same time.

Contact Valerie Wells at (217) 421-7982. Follow her on Twitter: @modgirlreporter


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