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Schools consider expanding solar presence

by | Jan 23, 2019 | Education, News

Additional panels at Marathon part of plan to reduce expenses

The Hopkinton Public Schools will be hoping for clear skies and sunny days ahead as they pursue two solar power opportunities to reduce expenses for the district.

HPS director of finance Susan Rothermich presented the two separate opportunities to the School Committee during their Jan. 3 meeting, stating that the two projects could save the district thousands of dollars per year in utility costs.

“Anything we can do to reduce expenses that doesn’t [affect] students is a great opportunity,” she said.

The first project would be to install additional solar panels onto the roof at the Marathon Elementary School. There are currently some solar panels on the roof of Marathon that were installed as part of the new building project. The additional solar panels would be part of a power purchasing agreement (PPA) where the district will receive utility credits for the solar power produced by the panels. There would be no capital outlay as the district would not own the panels. The PPA could save the district up to $23,000 in the first year, according to Rothermich.

This wouldn’t be the first time that the district has taken advantage of solar energy. The high school and middle school have solar panels on their roofs as well. The panels caused roof leaks, however, at the high school, and was cause for concern when pursuing further opportunities for solar. But school officials explained that the technology is much more advanced now then when they were installed years ago.

“Solar installations have come along way,” Rothermich said. “[The installations on the high school and middle schools] had roof penetration [to install the panels]. These would be installed on weighted ballasts on the roof.”

The second solar project would be a net metering project, where the solar energy is produced on a solar farm off-site, but credits for the energy produced would be given on HPS utility bills. The solar farm the district is considering is being produced in Acushnet and is slated to be completed in the fourth quarter of 2019. The district could see savings of up to $18,000 in the first year with net metering.

Solar farms are becoming common for nonprofits and school districts to dip into the solar energy business without having to make a large capital investment.

“These projects help avoid capital outlay, which is typically the stumbling block for most communities,” Rothermich said.

Rothermich requested permission from the committee to negotiate and sign solar power agreements for the district.

Four members voted affirmative while one, Vice Chair Meena Bharath, chose to abstain.
“I would like to spend more time understanding this,” she stated.

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