Building schools, saving money with new model

Horry County considers ‘energy positive’ school

HORRY COUNTY, SC (WMBF) - There may be a way building new schools in Horry County could put money back into our pockets.

The district has been discussing building four new middle schools and refurbishing Socastee Elementary for quite some time. Monday, the school board will take a look at a presentation to build these schools as "energy positive."

Those schools return more energy than they consume.

The architect presenting Monday has success with Sandy Grove Middle School in North Carolina.

Large solar panels sit outside and on the roof of the school, saving energy and money.

Sandy Grove Middle School produced more electricity last year than it used, so the electric company bought back the excess. In our case, it would be Santee Cooper, according to district officials.

Horry County School Board Chair Joe Defeo says there are many aspects and benefits.

Sandy Grove is using half the energy of a traditional school and that money is going back to the district and the county. The school is expected to save the county and the district about $35 million over 40 years, not to mention, it was built in a little over a year. 

It's not just a money saver, the school is used for learning. For example the digital dashboard is on display throughout the school, serving as an educational tool for students.

In deciding whether or not to build these schools here, we would have to decide if we will have similar gains.
Utilities cost. In Horry County, energy costs up to $12 million a year.

Defeo told WMBF News, the architect presenting the plan says a school like this could save about $500,000 a year, in energy costs. The architect estimates the five Horry County schools would save between $68-97 million in electrical costs in 40 years.

While building an energy positive school could roughly cost $2 million more than what's currently budgeted, it could save money down the line.

While the idea sounds efficient, it has to fit for Horry County, before it gets the nod.
"I'm not willing to spend $10 million of tax payers money and get nothing back, that's not gonna happen. We're not an environmental agency; we're a school district, and we need to do what's right for everybody. That's the students, the district as a whole, and the taxpayers,” said Defeo.

This is just a presentation, no decision will be made at the school board retreat Monday, according to Defeo, but he does hope one is made in two to four weeks, so Horry County can get the ball rolling.