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Blinded By the Light – The Pottsville Solar Panel Disarray

pottsville solar panels

We don’t want to be like the school board members at Pottsville Area School District and hastily jump to conclusions on solar panels.

Maybe putting solar panels on the roofs of all the school buildings is a great idea. Perhaps, getting rid of the much beloved practice field to put up a full solar array will help crawl the school out of debt.

There’s a chance all these things could be true.

It would be a rush to judgement to say one way or the other. After all, we first heard of the idea two weeks ago.

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And in that short period of time, Pottsville Area School District went from having 0 solar panels to agreeing to buy hundreds.

Maybe, just maybe, this is a good idea. If it turns out to be the goose that laid the golden egg for Pottsville, chalk it up to a lucky guess.

But let’s put that debate aside momentarily.

Pottsville Area School District Solar Panels

This isn’t about the idea. It’s about the rollout.

The idea of cluttering the entire school property with solar panels was apparently added to the December meeting agenda at the last minute, according to a local news report.

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After an initial round of discussions — which caught just about everyone off-guard — the board hastily scheduled a special meeting just to vote on approving this idea. And, of course, they did.

It feels like, in 40 years, people are going to look back and wonder, what were these people thinking? And they’ll find out, we weren’t.

Now, consider that this school board, as assembled, has been together for a total of two weeks.

That means the board, as a whole, has had this idea in front of them less than that time.

Could they have possibly done enough research in that time to make an informed decision? Or is this just more of the same from Pottsville Area School District?

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A Bad Year for Pottsville’s Finances

This hasn’t been a good year for Pottsville Area School District’s finances.

Earlier this year, the state auditor general released a scathing report detailing how Pottsville went from a budget surplus more than $10 million to a negative balance in just 5 years.

The report showed how poor financial planning, unchecked spending, and negligent bookkeeping resulted in the general fund’s steep decline.

The report came out after the school got sued in federal court over a student disciplinary incident in 2018. The school’s still paying for that and likely will continue to pay for it as it plays out in court in 2020.

Unfortunately, the Auditor General report came out after the Primary election, so it was difficult to get candidates on the ballot and organized to run an effective campaign against this mismanagement.

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On Election Night in November, the results were all but locked in. Based on the split vote on this topic, in particular, it seems at least some want to vet the idea more than just a few days.

But it wasn’t enough and here we are.

Solar Panels at Pottsville Area School District Deserves More Debate

Like we said initially, we’re not ready to assume the idea of installing solar panels around the school is a bad one. We can’t even have this debate because the issue was forced through a newly formed school board.

Whether this was discussed in October or in February or even 5 years ago, a few weeks ago was the first we all heard about it. And presumably, the first a handful of new school board members heard of it then for the first time, too.

So, what’s the rush?

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Are these solar panels offered at a discount price? Will this deal self-destruct? Are there other companies who can offer a better deal?

Who knows and apparently the people charged with being stewards of your property tax money say, “Who cares?”

You have to wonder … Why?

Why did this project get rushed to the front burner?

Unless it’s a dire emergency, things like this generally don’t get put on a school board meeting agenda at the last minute. The meeting in January would have been a perfectly fine time to discuss this idea.

You can argue that the school’s financial state is an emergency. But at the same time, you can also argue knee-jerk decisions aren’t the way to solve complex and large problems like Pottsville’s budget.

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So, right off the bat, this looks suspicious.

Why not put this out to bid?

Aren’t you the least bit suspicious of the company promising the sun on a silver platter like the situation here?

If there’s one company offering to do this, surely there’s another. Maybe even more.

If this idea is as good as promised — and we remain suspicious of that — it’s on the Pottsville school board to get the best deal. This is true even if the school were on sound financial ground, which Pottsville clearly isn’t.

We’re hearing more about the alleged savings and how there’s no cost up-front but less or nothing about the cost to maintain these solar panels. And then there are lease payments and payments on the loan, starting in few years.

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Why believe the first person to come along with this idea?

What Pottsville agreed to do in the last few weeks is like buying something you see on a TV infomercial. You spend more time finding a better deal on soda at the grocery store than Pottsville did buying all these solar panels.

Why would the school board vote on such a big issue based on one guy’s sales pitch?

Someone comes in to town and tells you that you can put solar panels on the roof of every building you own and in a big open field, it costs nothing up front, and in the end, you alleged save hundreds of thousands of dollars a year? That doesn’t sound suspicious to you?

And all we have to do is take out a multi-million dollar loan. But hey, it’s like we’re losing money if we don’t buy it, right?

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5 Comments

5 Comments

  1. coalregion12

    December 15, 2019 at 6:33 pm

    Is there any accountability with PASD School Board?
    They just had The PA Auditor General issue a report basically saying that the Financial Oversight was a joke.
    Now PASD School Board wants to get a loan on a scheme they hope and pray will work.
    Next meeting a guy will come from Brooklyn and advise he has a bridge to sell them.

    • admin

      December 16, 2019 at 12:02 am

      Just a hunch … have a feeling we’re going to see solar panels popping up all over the city and a few other Schuylkill County locations in the near future. Just a hunch.

      • insider

        December 17, 2019 at 2:06 pm

        Will Barefield remain bare?
        Will seniors in Minersville have solar panels???
        Things that make you go”Hmmmm”.

  2. insider

    December 17, 2019 at 12:54 pm

    Article reads will produce 79% of electric..If they only produce that much,there will not be a surplus to sell.Does efficiency go down in the Winter months?Joining a consortium for purchase of electricity has saved neighboring schools a lot.Was the savings based on conjecture of $50 for a certificate..present re-sale is under $20.MORE HOMEWORK needed with FACTS!

  3. Mark

    December 28, 2019 at 6:59 pm

    A no bid project? I think Bud Quandel, the new school board president is looking to fatten his wallet with this project. Although solar panels on the roofs of the buildings MAY not be a bad idea, it is crazy to place solar panels on the most heavily used athletic field in the district. Alumni field will not be able to accommodate the added use, it can barely sustain the events held there now.

  4. Pingback: Pottsville Schools - No Confidence in Any of Them - Coal Region Canary

  5. Pingback: Pottsville's Practice Field Red Herring - Coal Region Canary

  6. Pingback: Pottsville's Solar Panels Will Create E-Waste Crisis - Coal Region Canary

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