Zanesville City Schools utilizing federal and state grants to make buildings energy independent for upcoming school year


By Staff Report

When students at Zanesville City Schools return to classrooms this fall their buildings will be entirely powered, heated and cooled by onsite electric generation.

Fully funded by state and federal grants, each building will have been upgraded to energy-efficient LED lighting, solar panels will have been installed and revolutionary natural gas generators connected.

Buildings will not need to draw any power from the state’s electrical grid, instead, they will rely entirely on a combination of natural gas and solar that will save the district nearly $1 million dollars a year while being environmentally friendly.

According to Zanesville City Schools Superintendant Dr. Doug Baker, students in the high school’s Earth Club have worked over the past years to encourage the administration and board to take a look at how to reduce their environmental impact.

“We greatly appreciate their encouragement,” Baker wrote in a press release. “This has been an exciting project to plan over the past 18 months and we are looking forward to seeing it completed.”

That project involves first upgrading every building’s lighting system to energy-efficient LEDs which use but a fraction of the power of conventional lights.

While many districts across the state have made that decision, what Zanesville has instore is something unique and cutting-edge that places the urban district at the center of Muskingum County ahead of its peers across the state.

Instead of just placing solar panels at each building, which often still requires pulling power from the grid during darkness and pushing power during peak sunlight, working with an engineering firm, district buildings will use clean natural gas generators to supplement solar power.

That solution provides multiple additional benefits, first, such systems can quickly adjust to constantly moving power demands, thus not requiring pulling power from the grid, and second, the heat produced by the system can warm buildings.

That ‘combined system’ allows conventional energy waste, such as the production of heat in the electric generation process, to be captured and utilized in such a way that the entire system will be extremely energy efficient while making use of abundant natural gas from the region.

Andrew Bittner, CEO of Guaranteed Clean Energy, whose company has been selected as the district’s lead engineering firm for the project, said board members and administrators asked tough questions before moving forward with the project.

Those ‘tough questions’ were to ensure not only was the decision right for the district but that the solution never cost taxpayers while also still being a sound financial decision over conventional grid drawn power.

Utilizing both federal and state grants and incentives, even the cost of the engineering firm will be paid for by obtained dollars, truly costing the district not a single penny.

Another aspect of the project is the educational opportunities it brings to district students.

Using both solar and natural gas, a resource commonly available in the region, the project gives students a daily insight into what the future of energy will look like in Ohio with the added ability to have classroom discussions around both sources of electric generation.

“This is really the future of sustainable power productions on-site,” Bittner explained. “Solar is amazing but it only produces a maximum amount of energy when the sun is brightest, the combined heat and power natural gas system really helps in the mornings and evenings when the sun isn’t as bright.”

The systems are planned to be installed over the summer though certain delays of materials, because of the pandemic, might push that timeline back into the first weeks of the school year, Bittner added.

Once installed, the district buildings will still be connected to AEP’s power lines and thus to the state’s electrical grid but that choice is purely for backup and redundancy purposes.

In addition, batteries will also be installed to help store excess power produced by the solar panels during peak hours to work in tangent to the natural gas generators for the most cost and energy efficient balance.

A unique feature of the type of panels that will be installed is that even at night some light energy is able to be captured, supporting each building’s electrical needs.

Each year the program is estimated to save the district a ‘substantial amount of money’ and once all equipment is fully paid off, as some cost savings will be used to pay for various generating equipment, the district could save nearly $1 million dollars a year.

Bittner says he’s eager to be able to showcase Zanesville’s advanced new electrical generation equipment to districts across the state, including others in Muskingum County, as the push towards being more energy conscious gains traction.

“Clean energy is great, doing it cheaper than the grid is really great but ultimately the impact on the students I think trumps it all,” Britter said explaining the full impact of the district’s decision.