An open area west of Mechanics Grove Elementary School in Mundelein could become the site of a solar farm.
Mundelein District 75 plans to buy the 2.5-acre water detention area from the Mundelein Park District for $25,000, as an investment in a program school officials say could save millions in energy costs.
A pending partnership with ForeFront Power also would include the installation of solar panels on the roofs of three other District 75 schools at no cost to the district.
ForeFront has applied to the Illinois Power Authority to produce solar energy for District 75 schools, Superintendent Andy Henrikson said. That decision, expected early next year, would let the company secure a rebate and renewable energy tax credits, which are sold to investors.
"Without those, the project doesn't make sense," Henrikson said.
ForeFront would install, own and maintain the solar structures and District 75 would get electricity at a "much-reduced rate," he said.
"This is being fully funded for the length of the term by another entity," Henrikson said. "It's a perfect match for our financial needs."
The park district acquired the property about 20 years ago with the development of Longmeadow Colony subdivision.
"We maintain it but do not program it, as it is typically wet and there is no street access," said Margaret Resnick, the park district's executive director. "To get to it you need to take the new path on the north side of the Mechanics Grove property."
Henrikson said he became interested in solar possibilities after being contacted by ForeFront.
"It sounded too good to be true, but I said, 'Yeah, we'll meet with you.'"
The district is eyeing the park district site for panels because the roof at Mechanics Grove is out of warranty. The district didn't want to risk a solar installation if to meant costly repair or replacement, Henrikson said. School officials hope it will be several more years before that is needed.
"Right there next to us was this empty field. It's not really usable space" for the park district, Henrikson said.
The school board authorized the purchase Dec. 17. It also approved spending up to $6,000 to reimburse neighbors for landscaping after the solar farm is completed and will allow one neighbor in Hampton Reserve to build a fence on district property.
As envisioned, the solar farm would be raised above any potential water line and provide power to Mechanics Grove.
ForeFront estimates District 75 would save $600,000 over 25 years. Including the other three schools, the district would reduce electricity costs by $2 million, according to Henrikson.
"All four of our buildings will have solar panels, hopefully next year," he said.
Henrikson said the panels also will come with a curriculum that will provide students with new opportunities for scientific learning.