Officials are moving forward with the first phase of a plan to install solar panels on the roofs of New Canaan’s public schools.
New Canaan Public Schools Director of Finance and Operations Dr. Jo-Ann Keating told the Board of Education at its regular meeting July 15 that a revised contract with the party providing the panels had been finalized.
The revised contract is “about 73% less than our current rate that we pay per kilowatt hour,” Keating said at the meeting, held in the Wagner Room at New Canaan High School.
“The panel system is going to cover about 80% of our demand requirement, so we’ll still be going out to the grid for about 20% of what we need,” she added.
The revised contract follows months of progress in bringing the sustainable power source to New Canaan Public Schools.
At the Board’s April 22 meeting, Keating said that solar panels are to be installed on the roof of South School this summer, with a plan for installation on East and West schools and Saxe Middle Schools over the next three years.
“We have three roofs that are going to be replaced over the next three years—all the elementaries—which are prime candidates for solar,” she said. “They’re going to be 30-year roofs, and the solar will extend the life of those roofs beyond 30 years so I think it’s a great investment for the town.”
So far, there are no concrete plans to install solar panels on the NCHS roof, Keating said. Replacing the high school roof is an expensive project which will need to be started in the next several years, but which will take more than three to four years to complete, she added.
Superintendent of Schools Dr. Bryan Luizzi said that the district will “definitely…look at solar when it comes time to replace the high school roof.”
“All of this is reducing our carbon footprint as a school district,” he said.
Mark Robbins, President of Norwalk-based MHR Development LLC and engaged by the District to consult on the project, spoke to the Board of Ed at its June 10 meeting. He said that the system will be “net metered.”
“What that means is weekends, summertime, when the system’s over-generating—that power is fed back to the grid and the school district will receive a credit to draw upon in the winter months,” he said.
Robbins described a number of other benefits of installing solar panels. They will extend the life of the roofs they are installed on, he said, “because those panels are absorbing the solar radiation, not the rubber roof membrane.”
There will also be a benefit to the schools’ AC system, he said—like a beach umbrella, the panels will provide a physical cooling effect to the building itself, reducing “the wear and tear on the AC equipment.” Furthermore, he told the Board that there will be “an energy kiosk” in the school lobby “that can be programmed into STEM [Science, Technology, Engineering and Math]” learning.
“This is really a terrific example of implementing solar on a school because the stars aligned to deliver what I think is one of the best case studies or return on investment,” Robbins said.
The contract, a 20-year agreement with Greenwich-based Davis Hill Development, will be what is known as a Power Purchase Agreement, Keating said last Monday. She referred to the Board’s June 24 meeting, when Matthew Ranelli, an attorney at the New Haven office of Shipman & Goodman LLP and who has worked with the district on the project, explained how the contract will function.
The 325-kilowatt solar array will be installed by Davis Hill and the Board of Ed will buy the power generated by the panels from that company, Ranelli said. The contract “sets forth the price to purchase the power at [4.4 cents] per kilowatt hour,” compared with around 16 or 17 cents that it currently pays, he said.
“To be clear, you are not purchasing the solar panels. What you’re really doing is you’re licensing the space on the roof to a vendor,” he said. “They buy the panels, they install the panels, they own the panels for the life of the contract and then at the end of the term you either extend…or they have to take them down.”
The district will be obligated to maintain the array on the roof for the duration of the contract, Ranelli said. It will also have an option to purchase the panels from Davis Hill at the six-, 10- and 15-year points.
Under the contract, New Canaan Public Schools will not own the zero renewable energy credits attached to the project. According to Ranelli, speaking at the June 24 meeting, these credits and their associated monetary benefits will be assigned to Davis Hill.
“So that’s the trade-off,” he said. At that meeting, Keating said that the Board of Selectmen had given preliminary approval for the contract.
On April 22, Board Chair Brendan Hayes said that the project was “great.”
“The thing that I like about this is that if you couple this with the roofs that we have to replace you’re getting the savings from energy over time which offsets… a significant portion of the cost of the roof,” he said.