Solar panels defray energy bills for Bristol, Jackson

       Solar energy is now helping cut the energy bill at two Westside elementaries, Bristol and Jackson.

District 11 crews installed a total of 208 solar panels last summer on the roof at Bristol Elementary (above) and 338 at Jackson.
Courtesy of Mark Ferguson

       During summer break, District 11 crews went onto the roofs of both schools, installing 208 solar panels at Bristol and 338 at Jackson, plus related equipment that allows the the sun's rays to be harnessed to the schools' electrical grids.
       They were among seven schools chosen for the project from across the district because of their higher electrical rates. At Bristol and Jackson, this was a result of getting air conditioning in recent years, according to Mark Ferguson, energy program manager for D-11.
       With the solar project, Bristol's electrical bill is predicted to drop from $40,073 in the 2011-12 school year to $28,000 in 2012-13 and Jackson's from $37,500 to $21,500, he said. Each school has its own meter.
       The overall cost to install the equipment was just over $362,000 ($132,439 at Bristol and $230,062 at Jackson). Helping out was a $45,000 rebate at each school from Colorado Springs Utilities.
       Payback, based on future electrical rate increases of 5 percent a year, would occur within 7.2 years at Bristol. 11.5 years at Jackson.
       “All that savings goes back to the classroom,” Ferguson said. “That's what we're excited about. That's the only reason we do these things.”
       The systems are expected to last 50 years, and “there's really not much maintenance,” he elaborated.
       Coming with a 20-year warranty is a component called an invertor (which converts the DC power from the panels to the AC in the building). It comprised $30,000 of the cost in each system, he said.
       District 11's first solar system (still functional) was installed 10 years ago atop its transportation building on the east side. That started as a trial project with Utilities, Ferguson said.
       The district is looking for other schools on which solar panels can be added, but “funding has been tight,” he noted.

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