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School districts soak up the sun to save money

By Bo Koltnow, Reporter, BKoltnow@wfmz.com
Published On: Jul 04 2012 07:00:00 PM CDT
Updated On: Jul 05 2012 04:37:56 PM CDT

Soaking up the sun is not just for beach lovers. School districts are doing it, too, and seeing big savings.

BETHLEHEM, Pa. -

Soaking up the sun is not just for beach lovers. School districts are doing it, too, and seeing big savings.

Freedom High School in Bethlehem in an example of schools in the district using solar panels. The district has embraced green technology, which is saving plenty of money, officials said.

"In tight budget times, it's an enormous benefit," said Joseph Roy, superintendent of the Bethlehem Area School District, which is betting on the sun, and solar panels are creating a cash surplus. "This is pure savings. We're not cutting positions. We're not cutting educational programs."

Soaking up the sun is saving nearly $60,000 each year, Roy said. Couple that with other green initiatives like upgrading heating and cooling systems and retrofitting schools with energy efficient lighting, and the district is savings nearly $800,000 a year on energy costs, Roy said.

The district, however, has cut 155 positions over the past two years and raised taxes by nearly 5%, but Roy said those pink slips could have been worse if green practices weren't put in place.

"Other costs go up. The big drivers are retirement, health care," Roy said. "Charter school costs go up faster than savings."

The Nazareth Area School District has also gotten into the green game. The district said it's already seeing savings on solar panels installed earlier this year.

Across the country, more than 500 school districts have turned to the sun for savings, but Roy isn't stopping there. He's heading a big push to simply turn the lights off.

"Now focusing on getting the humans in line with energy savings," he said.

Across 22 schools, simply turning off lights can save a lot. On hot days like Thursday, when schools aren't being used, Bethlehem can also go off grid, a practice that allows the district to be reimbursed by the power company.