A patch of land facing Main Street in Rock Hill could soon have a new purpose -- renewable energy.
The York Electric Cooperative has proposed a land-use agreement with the Rock Hill school district to host a community solar program site in the northeast corner of the Applied Technology Center, 2399 Main Street West, said Tony Cox, deputy superintendent for the district.
Cox said York Electric chose that site because it is close to customers who would tap into solar energy and ties into the energy curriculum at the Applied Technology Center.
“(The ATC) strives to provide the latest, state-of-the-art technology and career vocational training for our students,” Cox said.
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On Aug. 14, Cox and York Electric representatives brought the proposal to the Rock Hill school board. Cox told the board the agreement benefits both the school district and York Electric.
Applied Technology Center students would get hands-on experience from the panels in their front yard, Cox said, and the district would support sustainability and renewable energy.
Dan Blackburn, who teaches electricity at the technology center, said the panels will provide a unique opportunity for his estimated 120 students a year, along with others in the district. Blackburn said residents want to see students learning career-ready skills.
“One of the greatest places solar is growing is for our residences,” he said. “Right now, this is it for our area.”
If the project is passed, Blackburn said students would get to experience the installation and maintenance of a solar farm.
“I can’t tell you how exciting it would be to have a field trip in my front yard,” he said. “The students can learn what is involved in maintenance on a scale I would never be able to get them to understand based on what I can do in a classroom.”
I can’t tell you how exciting it would be to have a field trip in my front yard.
Dan Blackburn, who teaches electricity at Rock Hill school district’s Applied Technology Center
Blackburn said the plan is for York Electric employees to come to classes as part of the deal. A formal agreement on that has not been written yet, Cox said.
Board member Terry Hutchinson said the panels represent the future in technology careers.
“This is 21st-century technology; it’s something our children today will get into,” he said. “We’re going to have career-ready students. We’re going to be producing them out of ATC.”
The proposed plan would include 627 panels, surrounded by six-foot security fencing and bushes, Cox said. The solar farm would sit back from the main road due to required easements. It would produce no lights or sounds.
Cox said the proposed agreement is a business venture with York Electric, who would pay the district rent to lease the land. York Electric is responsible for building and maintaining the solar panels and site, including the grass and fencing surrounding it.
The proposed agreement on the site, less than two acres, is for 25 years, with rent at $1,766 a year, Cox said. The rent, plus savings incurred for the grass maintenance of that area, would amount to about $64,000 over 25 years to the school district.
“We saw that as a fair amount and a good use of that property’s corner,” Cox said.
Board chair Jim Vining said that is not enough money for the district.
“We would be better off selling that property on the market instead of tying it up for 25 years,” Vining said.
However, Cox said the savings on lawn maintenance and revenue from rental of that property is just part of the equation. As part of the deal with York Electric, he said the district has negotiated future installation of solar panels at Oakdale Elementary School.
Cox said the Oakdale deal would save the district on energy costs in the long-term. He said the proximity to the ATC also has to be considered.
“That to me has a tremendous value,” he said.
Board member Helena Miller said she too is concerned the length of the agreement is too long and may hinder future growth efforts.
“For us as a district to move toward sustainability and to support those efforts in the community is phenomenal, but one thing about land is that they don’t make anymore of it,” she said. “If we sign this, we kind of don’t own it for 25 years.”
Cox said the panels are one of the best uses of that land the district could get.
Cox said his team sent a survey over the summer to the district’s School Improvement Council members and community members near the proposed site. Cox said they got back eight responses, all of which supported the project. The district also received positive responses during an Aug. 3 community meeting, including from members of Epiphany Luteran Church across the street.
“A great deal of support has been expressed by the community for this installation,” Cox said.
However, Vining said the survey and the one meeting does not provide enough community feedback to move forward. He said a well-advertised community meeting should be scheduled before a decision is made.
“I’m not opposed to the panels, but I am opposed to rushing into a 25-year lease (without community input),” Vining said.
Howard Wright, who lives in Rawlinson Acres, a neighborhood 1.4 miles from the Applied Technology Center, said the school district should get more feedback from neighbors.
“I believe that the school board should hold a public meeting at the ATC and present the project to those who may have a concern,” he said. “This meeting could answer any questions or concerns a neighbor may have.”
A public meeting has not yet been set.
Amanda Harris: 803-329-4082