By Ed Runyan
By the middle of this winter, a crop of solar-collection panels could begin to emerge on 10 of the 30 acres of farmland between the state Route 5 bypass and the Trumbull Career and Technical Center.
The land, owned by the career center, could be offered up to the Columbus-based company Solar Planet for installation of the panels and a small research lab priced at $8 million.
The deal would involve no cost to the district, but the district would buy the electricity generated by the installation under a 25-year contract.
Wayne McClain, superintendent of the career center, said the school recently sent eight school board members and administrators to Centerburg, Ohio, to look at a Solar Planet installation there.
But school officials started to have concerns when they received a 20-page contract from Solar Planet and started to discuss it with their attorney.
Officials have concerns about fees the district would have to pay to get out of the contract, McClain said.
Solar Planet guarantees that the price of its electricity will not rise above First Energy prices, but McClain said school officials need more legal advice before making a decision.
Board members might decide as early as today’s board meeting on what direction to go, McClain said.
Kevin Coughlin, chairman of Lexington Companies of Akron, a consultant working for Solar Planet, said the school district and Solar Planet are still in negotiations on the project, which would generate 2 megawatts of electricity.
“On a good, sunny day, the school will be off the grid,” Coughlin said, meaning the school wouldn’t have to receive any electricity from First Energy.
The project would utilize solar panels rising about 41/2 feet out of the soil.
The owner of Solar Planet is Charley Shin, founder and owner of Charley’s Grilled Subs, which has 500 restaurants worldwide.
Solar Planet is in the midst of a solar-power construction boom, Coughlin said, with plans to construct $200 million worth of solar-collection facilities across Ohio in the next two years.
Solar Planet is in negotiation on projects in 30 Ohio locations and has a 1.3 megawatt project operating at Centerburg Local Schools just northeast of Columbus and a 1.5 megawatt project at the West Jefferson Local School District just west of Columbus.
The price of the electricity starts at 6 cents per kilowatt hour for the first two years, 7 cents plus additional fees thereafter, but at no time goes higher than TCTC’s current electricity price.
“The school will save a significant amount of money,” Coughlin said.
McClain said the district already buys its electricity at a rate of 7 cents per kilowatt hour through a contract with the Ohio Schools Council that runs through 2014.
He’s not sure whether the existing contract will be an impediment to the Solar Planet project, McClain said.
Solar Planet hopes to break ground at TCTC by the end of the year, and construction would take one to two months, Coughlin said.
Another benefit of the project would be to the students and staff, who would get a front-row seat to observe construction and operation of the facility, Coughlin said.