SARCOXIE, Mo. — Installation will begin this spring on the largest solar project at a school district in Missouri.

A Springfield company, Solera Energy, is preparing to install an 911-kilowatt array on the roofs of school buildings in Sarcoxie. It will include 2,025 solar panels on the Wildwood Elementary and the high school and junior high buildings.

Work is expected to begin in March on a project that officials say could save the district more than $130,000 a year on its electric bill.

Sarcoxie Superintendent Phil Lewis said the project won’t cost the district any money upfront, and he estimates it could save $4 million over the 30-year lifetime of the contract with Solera.

“They have investors that back this whole project up,” Lewis said. “Basically we will … pay a fixed amount every month to Solera for the energy we produce from the solar panels.

“We’ll have a fixed 1.75% increase each year, and that’s almost unheard of when it comes to rate increases.”

Lewis said Solera approached the school district at the suggestion of a couple of the company’s employees who live in Sarcoxie and have students in Wildwood Elementary. Those installers approached Wildwood Principal Dusty Feather, who then came to Lewis and suggested the administration and the school board look into solar power.

Lewis said he and the board looked at the project for more than three months before finally deciding in December to proceed. He also said he talked to people at Washington University in St. Louis, where Solera installed a solar array, and in Nixa, where Solera is installing a solar farm.

“We as a school board and an administration weighed the pros and cons,” Lewis said. “All my research on the company was positive, plus they’ve got people living in our district that work for them. It turned out to be pretty good information I brought back to the board; then the board did a lot of research on the numbers because you’re basically signing a 30-year contract.

“We tried to find some negatives, and all we found out was, ‘Hey, this is going to be a pretty good fit.’”

Solera Energy announced that it had signed a solar services agreement with Gardner Capital Specialty Group that requires no capital expenditure from the district, no maintenance costs and provides immediate savings. The installation is expected to be completed in mid-2022.

“This is a historic partnership for renewable energy in Missouri,” said Will Cox, Solera Energy CEO.

Cox and Josh Johnmeyer, director of commercial industrial with Solera, said school districts have been on the company’s radar for a few years as a possible candidate for its solar energy projects.

Two of the company’s lead installers, Jesse Bremer and Tyler Kahler, who live in Sarcoxie, suggested that the company might look into the Sarcoxie School District as a pilot project.

“Schools were on our radar,” Cox said, “and for both those guys, their children go to school there, so they came to my office one day and said, ‘Hey, I think this would be a great opportunity for us. Would you be willing to talk with the superintendent?’

“The school district gave us their electric bill to see if it was something that would make sense. We had a long process in looking at the viability of a particular project and all the numbers lined up.”

Johnmeyer said about 80 school districts in Missouri have solar panels on their campuses, but the largest such installation is about 450 kilowatts — about half the size of the one that will be installed in Sarcoxie.

For perspective, Johnmeyer said a home with an electric bill of about $100 a month is using 7 to 9 kilowatts of electricity.

Johnmeyer said that of the other solar projects in public schools in Missouri, there were not many where the district didn’t have to buy the solar panels in an upfront investment. He said Missouri state law made it impossible for school districts on their own to take advantage of tax credits that individual residents and some businesses can use to pay toward the cost of installing solar arrays.

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