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Solar Panels Installed on Lake Marion Elementary Roof

December 14, 2021

A full array of solar panels installed on the roof of Lake Marion Elementary is now live and generating clean, green, renewable energy. The solar array went live on Tuesday, December 7. Lake Marion Elementary is the first of four schools in the Lakeville Area Schools district to get solar panels installed. The panels will help reduce the district’s carbon footprint and save money on its energy bills. It’s fitting that Lake Marion Elementary is the first school to go live with solar panels, because this push towards solar energy was sparked in part by Lake Marion students several years ago.

Solar panels on roof“We had been doing a debate unit in our Discover class and my fifth graders had some assigned topics to pick from. One student said, ‘please can I do the topic, “Is the Time Right for Renewable Energies to Replace Fossil Fuels?”’ He inspired the rest of the class with that debate and then we spent about a week playing around with solar panels and fountains,” explained Lake Marion STEM teacher, Kim Menard, who also taught Discover as a Gifted Education specialist at the time.

“Eleven of the twenty students started to meet before school, a little solar club. We looked at all of our energy bills, we talked to stakeholders like parents, community members and teachers, they called people who had solar arrays at their schools and did a lot of research. It ended up in a presentation that was given to Principal Domstrand and our head of facilities at the time. They sent us to the school board, to a work session,” remembered Ms. Menard.

Students presenting to school board in 2017“Our students had a project ready. They wanted to show the power of solar. And these fifth graders from our Discover program had the opportunity to go to the school board, talk about their ideas. They were able to figure out the costs and the benefits of why we should go to solar,” said Principal Bret Domstrand of the 2017 Board of Education work session.

“While that idea didn’t catch on right in the moment, it never went away either. The conversation continued and when the opportunity finally came, Lake Marion was a name that popped right up to the top of the list,” said Principal Domstrand.

“I’m super excited for my solar team of 2017. They get to see that their voices helped get this across and that their voices mattered,” said Ms. Menard.

The panels are installed and maintained by iDEAL Energies for 20-years as part of its contracted partnership with the District. They are currently about halfway through installing solar panels on top of McGuire Middle School with hopes of getting that system online by the end of 2021. After that, panels will be installed at Lakeville North High School in 2022. The fourth school to have solar panels installed on its roof will be on top of the addition at John F. Kennedy Elementary, with the goal of installing more panels on other parts of the building after its roof is replaced. 

Solar panels on roofThe solar panels generate energy by absorbing sunlight through their photovoltaic cells, or solar cells. The energy generated goes to Xcel Energy’s power grid and offsets the energy typically used by the school. Of the four schools receiving solar panels, Lake Marion Elementary is expected to generate the most energy in relation to its current energy use.

“LME is not only the first, but the largest payback. 98% of the energy from the solar panels will be applied for our bill, which will leave very little bill for LME to have to pay,” said Beth Louden, Director of Facilities and Plant Planning.

iDEAL Energies projects McGuire Middle School to be able to generate 46% of its energy use from its solar panels. John F. Kennedy Elementary is expected to generate 16% of its energy from solar power based on panels going only on the addition at this time. JFK could produce more energy when it's time to have more panels installed. Lakeville North is projected to generate 28% of its energy from solar.

Lakeville Area Schools stands to save money through the use of solar panels. As the schools generate energy for Xcel Energy’s power grid, it also receives energy credits on its energy bills. Once all four sites are live with solar panels, the District is projected to receive more than $50,000 a year in credits to its energy bill. By the end of the 20-year partnership with iDEAL Energies, the district will have saved around $1.38 million in credits. 

After 20 years, the District takes full ownership of the solar panels and gets the full credit amount. This will result in a single-year saving of around $434,000. iDEAL Energies says the average lifespan of a solar panel is around 40 years. At the end of that 40 year lifespan, Lakeville Area Schools is projected to have achieved $12.8 million in energy savings. That’s taking into account just the first four schools set to receive solar panels.

“All of the dollars saved on our energy bill will be able to go back into our operating budget to assist in other projects,” said Louden. “We’re anticipating being able to reinvest in other types of energy saving opportunities. For example, we’ve been able to install energy-saving LED lights in most of our buildings. We could install LED lights at the remaining buildings sooner than we would otherwise,” said Louden.

Principal Domstrand and Ms. Menard already have plans to use the installation of the solar panels on their building as a teaching example for students.

sun and wind turbine“It’s fun to tell kids that the sun is powering our school. We also have a wind turbine and solar light out by our bus lobby. Every single day our students get to see all that. Every day the thought of how renewable energy works is in our students’ world,” said Principal Domstrand.

“We want kids to see that what we’re teaching them is real and has real life connections. When my kids are sitting outside this spring and doing their solar work, they can look up and see actual solar panels on the roof and see a connection between what they’re doing and a real job. That’s really important at a time when we need more workers in the electrical field. I love that these solar panels could be extra inspiration to the students,” said Ms. Menard.

“We have a huge opportunity here with 15 buildings in the district and growing. Investing in solar is the right thing to do, not only for our own energy savings, but it’s also the right thing to be teaching our children so that they can physically see what’s going on on our roofs and see that we’re doing our part to make a difference,” said Louden.

“We’re trying to create a legacy that started with an idea from some students. Now you have something that could be here for 40 years. That’s pretty exciting,” said Principal Domstrand.

Solar Gardens

Not all schools in the District are able to receive solar panels right now, even if they express interest. iDEAL Energies recommends installing solar arrays on roofs that have a 20-year lifespan ahead of them, which means waiting for schools to receive scheduled replacement of roofs before panels can be installed.

That’s why Lakeville Area Schools is subscribing to solar gardens through Impact Power Solutions. The Board of Education approved this in August 2021. This will allow other buildings in the District to tap into energy provided by solar gardens that are set up in adjacent counties to Dakota County. This would result in annual energy savings of roughly $50,000 a year. Over the course of the 25-year subscription, the District could save nearly $1.3 million in its energy costs.