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AZTEC — Aztec school district administrators are looking to the sun to help reduce operations expenses.

The Aztec Municipal School District Board of Education recently approved a second project that will result in the installation of solar panels on district property. The move comes as administrators prepare to submit a third solar energy project for board approval that could produce as much energy as the first two projects combined.

Board members on Aug. 11 approved a plan to install solar panels on the roofs of five Aztec schools that is projected to cost about $915,000. The cost will be finalized after a contract is reached with the Albuquerque-based firm Affordable Solar, district finance director Gary Martinez said.

Funds for the project come from $11 million in bonds sold in 2014 and the district’s 2-mill fund. The district is working with Affordable Solar, the company hired by the San Juan Regional Medical Center to install the hospital’s solar farm in Farmington.

Martinez and Superintendent Kirk Carpenter have been working on the projects to help reduce operations expenses. They hope to use the savings for more teachers, supplies and academic-focused projects.

“We’re not going to be able to generate (additional funds),” Carpenter said. “What we have to do is ask, ‘How do we create more funding?’ And one of the ways to do that is solar.”

A total of 10 solar panel systems will be installed on the roofs of buildings at Lydia Rippey Elementary School, Aztec High School, Park Elementary School and Koogler Middle School.

To avoid drilling holes in the roofs of the school buildings to secure the panels, the district is using ballasted roof-mounted systems to secure the solar panels. The weighted solar panel units can withstand the force of winds up to 100 mph, according to Carpenter.

The new solar panel system could generate about 341 kilowatts of energy, and it could produce about $86,000 in energy savings the first year, according to board paperwork. The energy savings over a 25-year period could reach as much as $2.87 million.

Martinez said he hopes the project is finished by August 2017 before the start of the 2017-2018 school year. The majority of the work is scheduled for summer 2017 to avoid interruptions in the classroom.

The district's first solar project to install about $350,000 in solar panels on the roofs of buildings at the district’s administrative office was completed at the end of July, Carpenter said. Five sets of photovoltaic modules were installed on covered parking structures for buses and the transportation department office behind the district’s administration building at 1118 W. Aztec Blvd.

The Daily Times has reported the system could generate about 128 kilowatts of energy and about $34,000 in electricity savings in its first year, according to a proposal from Taos-based PPC Solar.

For the future, the district is looking at installing a solar farm on five acres of property located near McCoy Elementary.

Martinez said that project could generate as much energy as the first two solar projects combined. The project is still being developed, and the district is looking for a contractor to work with before the proposal is brought to the school board for approval.

Carpenter said it is taking longer to develop that solar energy project because the district hopes to leave a portion unfinished for students to complete as part of a possible service-learning project.

The proposed solar farm is projected to be finished next summer, Martinez said.

Joshua Kellogg covers education for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4627.

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