Lawrenceville School flipped on the metaphorical switch to its new 6.1 megawatt solar farm during a dedication ceremony held last Friday, May 4.
The solar array, construction of which began in September 2011 and was completed in March, is expected to have a positive impact on the school, both environmentally and economically.
"The solar farm is part of the Green Campus Initiative which involves everything from energy to lawn maintenance to water usage. Then there's a strong economic incentive as well," said Sam Kosoff, the private school’s director of sustainability. "The school will wind up saving $400,000 a year, but if energy prices escalate, it will be more."
The nearly 25,000 solar panels, located on about 30 acres, are expected to generate 90 percent of the energy needs of the school off Route 206.
The solar array is owned and will be maintained by KDC Solar TLS, based in Bedminster, N.J. For leasing out the 30 acres to KDC, Lawrenceville School will receive a low, fixed rate for electricity produced on the site for the next 20 years.
“During the day, the array can produce nearly twice the amount of energy needed by the school. The excess will be exported to Public Service Electric & Gas (PSE&G) and credited to the school. The school will draw the excess energy and all other required energy from PSE&G after sundown,” according to a news release issued by the school.
The 6.1 megawatt DC array is expected to generate about 9,264,000 kilowatt hours of solar electricity per year, offsetting nearly 6,400 metric tons of carbon dioxide annually – the equivalent of taking more than 1,200 cars off the road.
A “single axis tracker system” will allow the panels to adjust position to follow the sun as it moves throughout the day.
The array will also offers an educational opportunity to the students, who can access the current output and usage of the solar farm through real-time monitoring information provided by KDC.
"Students can study the design of the panels and how they work," said Kosoff. "We're still piecing together all the different teaching opportunities."
In keeping with the land's previous agricultural use, 1,600 pounds of wildflower seeds were planted among and around the solar panels.
During Friday’s ribbon-cutting ceremony, school Headmaster Liz Duffy entertained the audience with an anecdote about the school's consideration to allow goats and sheep to graze beneath the panels, but reconsidered after taking into account the 800 students she is already responsible for.
“However, then I was told the wildflowers growing beneath and between the panels will accommodate up to one million bees,” Duffy said with a smile.
The type of honey bees, Apis mellifera, were first introduced in the United States around 1856. Onsite hives will be maintained by Pier V. Guidi of Bamboo Hollow Apiaries and Honey Farms in Hillsborough. The bees are expected to produce 400 pounds of honey annually which will be used in Lawrenceville School’s dining halls and also sold locally.
Joyce Copleman, whose husband Ralph Copleman was executive director of Sustainable Lawrence until his passing in January of 2011, reflected on her husband's impact, saying he left a "big footprint while encouraging all of us to have a very small footprint."
"It is so important to instill in our youth: we need to change the way we think and the way we live," said Copleman.
Lawrenceville School officials said they believe theirs is the largest solar farm on a secondary school's property in New Jersey.
"[Lawrenceville School is] really proud, but also, so excited to be part of a township that is forward thinking and supportive of this initiative," said Kosoff. "The solar panels in all the [public] schools in Lawrence Township are a testimony to that."