Should Taunton schools spend millions to save millions on lucrative solar deal?
TAUNTON — Should Taunton Public Schools invest in solar power?
It’s certainly a big, lucrative, and feasible venture, the city's Chief Financial Officer Patrick Dello Russo told the Taunton School Committee.
At the Committee’s March 15 meeting, Dello Russo brought along the solar consultant for the city, Matthew Parent of Summit Solar, who previously consulted on the proposal to put solar arrays on Taunton’s Landfill.
Parent conducted early-stage site assessments of all 12 schools’ rooftops and provided a best-case scenario where spaces on the roofs are maximized to hold the highest number of panels.
How does this differ from the landfill solar array?
What Dello Russo and Parent are proposing is different from what’s going onto the landfill.
With the landfill, the city and TMLP are entering into a power purchase agreement (PPA), where the solar developer will lease the land from the city, build the site themselves, and be responsible for its maintenance. Under this PPA, the developer would sell the energy accumulated back to Taunton at a reduced rate, as well as pay the annual lease fees for the site, over the course of a 20-25 year agreement.
With the school district, what’s being proposed is an outright purchase of solar arrays, with the intention of generating electricity to power the schools and lower utility bills.
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Parent said that, ideally, with these rooftop solar arrays, power generated during the day will be more than the schools will use. This extra energy will go back onto the energy grid, where TMLP will issue credits for the schools. The credits offset utilities bills, which can be especially beneficial during winter months when the arrays aren’t producing as much energy due to lack of sun.
Parent said each rooftop installation would be eligible for a federal tax credit of 30% of the cost of the array. The school district would have to pay all the installation costs up front, and the 30% tax credit would be reimbursed the fiscal year after completion of the installation.
In addition, each installation also qualifies for renewable energy certificates (RECs), which can then be sold to businesses on the open market. Whoever ends up with the RECs gets "green" credits for using or producing renewable energy.
How much would solar cost? How much would solar save?
The Taunton High School building — which also houses Parker Middle School — represents the biggest potential solar revenue driver, officials said.
Summit Solar estimated a maximum potential of over 7,500 panels installed over the building's roof, capable of yielding 3.82 Mega Watts of power annually. The total cost estimate to cover the whole building is $8 million.
But after factoring in the federal tax credits and revenue from RECs over 30 years — the average life span of solar panels — the net cost to the district to install the panels on both schools drops to less than $2 million.
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Meanwhile, the district could expect to lower its electricity bill, so that it recoups that $2 million after a few years and comes out ahead of the game after than, officials said.
For the district as a whole, the total cost to install panels on all 12 schools is about $18 million. But the district could expect to recoup almost $13 million of that, dropping the net cost to $5.4 million, according to Summit Solar.
And the electrical savings for all 12 schools for the first year alone is estimated at $1.7 million, Summit Solar said.
The School Committee motioned to refer the proposal to the Committee as a Whole.
Project approval would mean more in-depth surveying from engineers, who will do things like evaluate the structure and stability of each rooftop to determine if it can handle the weight. Estimates from Summit Solar on costs, savings and incentives are subject to change.
The School Committee will need to decide on full or partial installations for all schools, some of the schools or just passing on the proposal altogether.
This article originally appeared on The Taunton Daily Gazette: Taunton Public Schools might spend millions on solar panels