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School Gets Creative To Pay For Solar Panels

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By Sabri Ben-Achour

Though the cost of solar energy has come down over the years, it remains a big road block. But one of the area’s leading private schools has found it's own creative way of paying for it.

On the roof of the gym at Sidwell Friends' lower school in Bethesda, Maryland, 120 solar panels are about to be installed. It's going to cost more than $200,000. But, "this is a no cash deal for us," says Chief Financial Officer Mike Saxenian.

The school is creating an investment opportunity out of the panels, calling it a solar bond. Parents, alumni and friends buy shares in the system. The school pays them for the electricity. Because the investors are individuals, they are eligible for certain grants and incentives that aren't available to schools, says Saxenian.

Power companies in search of offsets can also pay them for what are called Renewable Energy Certificates.

The result is a 3 percent return on investment in 10 years. After that, the investors donate the panels to the school and get a tax deduction for it.

Kirk Renaud runs Common Cents Solar, a non-profit that's helping the school go solar.

"We think it's a great model for any type of situation where there's a community asset - a recreation center, a church, a synagogue, school," he says.

The school says its solar panels will offset approximately 1 million tons of greenhouse gases.

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