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Are the solar arrays at Carlisle Area and Cumberland Valley school districts and Dickinson College meeting projections for generating electricity?

What are their maintenance costs?

Officials say the declining value of solar credits have dimmed the value of solar arrays, but they are still a good business decision and are meeting expectations for generating power.

Here’s a breakdown:

Carlisle

When Carlisle Area School District began using its solar array in 2010, solar credits were worth over $200 per credit, according to director of facilities Tom Horton. Since then, they’ve dipped as low as $9 per credit and are currently at $35-$40 per credit.

Power companies use the credits to fulfill state mandates requiring them to get certain percentages of their energy from solar projects. Pennsylvania allowed power companies to get their credits from other states, but those states did not reciprocate, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. The result was a bountiful supply of credits, which decreased their value.

A 2017 law signed by Gov. Tom Wolf now prohibits energy providers from purchasing credits out of state.

Currently, Carlisle’s 1.4-megawatt solar field, which produces the anticipated amount of energy, generates about $1,400 per year in credits, Horton said.

Maintenance costs vary, but average $3,500 to $4,000 per year, he said.

However, the annual energy savings from the solar array dwarf those numbers. While the cost-savings vary based on the annual cost of other forms of electricity, the array saved the district $78,000 in electricity in 2014, the most recent year for which Horton had numbers immediately available.

“It’s a good deal for the district,” he said.

Cumberland Valley

Cumberland Valley’s 1-megawatt field does generate the amount of energy expected: enough to meet about 15 percent of the district’s approximately $1 million energy budget, according to Mike Willis, the district’s director of business and support services.

Like Horton, he acknowledged that the decline in solar credit values has decreased the solar array’s economic benefits. As a result, it’s taking longer than expected to recoup the $4 million cost of the project.

Still, with solar credits heading back in the right direction, the district is “closing in” on full payback for the project, he said.

The annual service contract for maintenance is less than $5,000, he said.

Dickinson College

The college’s 12-acre, 3-megawatt solar field has only been online since December. So far, though, it is meeting expectations that it will generate about 5 million kilowatt-hours per year, according to associate vice president for sustainability and facilities planning Kenneth Shultes.

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NexEra Energy will maintain the array through a 25-year contract, in exchange for which Dickinson will purchase the power generated and receive renewable energy credits.

Solar arrays typically have a 10-15 year payback, including the credits, additional incentives and the reduction in other utility costs, Shultes said.

But solar projects aren’t all about the money. Dickinson’s solar array is part of the college’s efforts to become carbon-neutral by 2020.

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Daniel Walmer covers public safety for The Sentinel. You can reach him by email at dwalmer@cumberlink.com or by phone at 717-218-0021.

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