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Hidden atop Buffalo's schools: the largest solar project in the state

It's billed as the largest school solar project in New York State, but good luck trying to find it.

It's hard to spot from the ground, but high above – along the rooftops of 19 schools across Buffalo –  is an almost sculpture-like array of solar panels pumping out power for the city school district.

The project began four years ago, when the district’s Division of Plant Services collaborated with the local Sierra Club to consider renewable energy alternatives for the Buffalo Public Schools.

The result: a power purchase agreement with the winning bidder, Montante Solar.

The company provides, installs and maintains the solar panels. It then sells the solar power to the district at a rate that will remain the same for the next two decades, said Paul McDonnell, director of facilities planning, design and construction for the school district.

Dr. Charles R. Drew Science School. (John Hickey/Buffalo News)

“Utilities fluctuate with the market,” McDonnell said, “so not only are we providing green energy and reducing our carbon footprint, but sort of hedging our energy cost for the next 20 years.”

Now complete, the project consists of some 10,000 solar panels that will generate 3 1/2 million kilowatt hours of power each year, or about 19 percent of the power supplied to the participating schools. The schools were determined by the condition of their roofs and the best opportunity to capture the most sunlight.

The school district has received kudos for reducing its carbon footprint. In 2015, the district was recognized with an award from the Sierra Club for environmental leadership.

More recently, the project has gotten praise from the state, which created a program of its own to help other districts bring solar energy to their schools.

“We’re sort of the pioneers,” McDonnell said.

McKinley High School, one of the 19 Buffalo Public Schools that have installed solar roof panels to reduce their carbon footprint and save on energy costs. (John Hickey/Buffalo News)

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