The Columbia School District is exploring a grant to install solar panels at a school as part of the Kemper County power plant settlement.
Using the sun’s energy, the devices could potentially offset some of the district’s light bill.
The board accepted a $5,000 grant Monday and is using it to pay an architecture firm, Landry Lewis Germany of Hattiesburg, to do a feasibility study. Superintendent Jason Harris said the firm will give recommendations about where to place the panels and estimated savings.
Board Attorney Drew Foxworth said the initial money is to see if it would work and then the rest would pay for the installation of panels at one of the district’s buildings at no cost to the district.
“Basically it’s Mississippi Power’s way of paying the settlement over the Kemper County debacle,” he said.
The utility had planned to build a coal-gasification plant in Kemper County, but after spending $7.5 billion the experimental technology never worked. A large-scale campaign by opponents of the project thwarted a plan to pass those costs onto ratepayers, which would have greatly increased power bills throughout South Mississippi for decades. As part of a deal reached with the Mississippi Public Service Commission, Mississippi Power ate $6.4 billion with ratepayers on the hook for $1.1 billion.
Also, the Sierra Club settled a lawsuit with Mississippi Power over the Kemper project that called for the utility to pay $15 million for renewable energy projects. The Gulf Coast Community Foundation is administering the fund.
The Columbia district could receive up to $200,000 based on its actual costs, according to the grant agreement, although Harris said he believes it to actually be about $30,000.
Harris said the panels must face south and Columbia Primary School would be great for that. Mississippi Power has said it will not buy any power back, Harris said.
The panels will be plugged straight into the meter, and Foxworth said the meter will pull from the solar energy when it’s available and kick over to the traditional power sources otherwise. District officials estimated the life spans on the panels at between 10 and 20 years.
“They’re in the business of selling power. Do they really want to give us the best solar panels they can? Probably not,” Foxworth said.
Board Member Chris Wallace said the district won’t be out any money and if it shows it could save 30 percent on its electric bill it would be a good deal.
• The school board approved the 2019-2020 student/parent handbook with minor modifications from last year. “The verbiage is better. Not a lot has changed; it’s just more unified and streamlined,” Harris said. The handbooks are to be posted on the district’s website.
• The board accepted a grant for equipment to make smoothies at Jefferson Middle School, which the district’s child nutritionist, Nicole Bass, explained.
• The board accepted student transfer requests for children of district employees. It also accepted transfers for children of non-district employees who work in Columbia but live in Walthall and Lawrence counties. Those students, who were in the Columbia district last year, pay $400 per semester in tuition.
• Teachers were to return Wednesday and be in training through Friday. School starts Monday for students. “Everybody’s excited. We’re ready. A lot of buzz,” Harris said.
• The board will meet from 8 a.m. to noon Saturday at the central office to discuss updates to the district policies. Harris said they haven’t been touched in 15 years and major updates are needed.
• The board delayed a decision on allowing spirit shirts as part of the school uniforms until having time to consult with the principals.
• The following resignations were accepted: Lela Cox, teacher at Jefferson Middle School; Amber Montgomery, CHS/JMS school nurse; and Debbie Ezell, CHS special education teacher assistant.
• The following employment recommendations were approved: Brooke N. Randall, JMS learning strategies teacher (replacing Jennifer Patterson; pending licensure); David C. Watts, JMS eighth grade social studies teacher (pending background check as required by state law); Louise Brown, part-time speech/language pathologist ($50 per hour on an as-needed basis serving private school students); and Annette Taylor, school crossing guard
• The board hired the persons listed below as limited service expert substitute teachers: Mary B. Buchanan, CHS family and consumer science teacher (replacing Toni Floyd); and Haley M. Sones, JMS physical education/health teacher (replacing the art position).
The board approved the following coaching/athletic assignments: Guy Copeland, assistant boys and girls soccer coach; Aleise McGowan, athletic videographer; and Haley M. Sones, assistant softball coach.
Pictured Above: A grant funded by Mississippi Power could place solar panels at a school in the Columbia School District to help with electricity costs. | Photo Illustration