Solar panels to be put on four Shelton school roofs

Solar panels could be installed next year on roofs at four city schools, which should reduce electricity costs at those schools by a combined $1.43 million over a 20-year period.

The Board of Aldermen has approved an agreement with Solar City to install the panels at Long Hill, Perry Hill, Elizabeth Shelton and Sunnyside schools.

The California-based company would put in and maintain the panels at no cost to the city in return for the city agreeing to buy all the generated electricity for 20 years through a power purchase agreement. The company has 12 to 18 months to install the panels.

The locked-in electricity rate would be about one-third less than what the Board of Education (BOE) now pays for electricity from United Illuminating (UI), based on discussion at the meeting.

The savings could be greater than estimated if, as is likely, electric rates continue to rise through the years. John Anglace, aldermanic president, said the chances of future electric rates going down are “remote.”

'A one-stop shop'

The aldermen’s unanimous vote came after a presentation by Solar City’s Sarah Hill, who explained that the company offers “a one-stop shop” approach because it handles feasibility, financing, engineering and design, installation, maintenance, monitoring, and possible panel removal at the end of the contract.

“There’s no cost for the city,” said Hill, a project development manager.

She said most other solar energy companies specialize in one or a few aspects of the business, and are not as “integrated” as Solar City.

Hill said the company has 141,000 customers and 7,000 employees, and in Connecticut has done work on 1,000 residential homes and 20 commercial projects, and worked with 10 municipalities.

Aldermen had tabled the Solar City agreement a week earlier at a meeting because they wanted to learn more about the arrangement.

The aldermen had to vote on the deal because school buildings are city owned while the BOE pays for the electricity. The BOE is supportive of the Solar City arrangement.

Tax credits

The proposed system at each school is designed to generate about 90% of the electricity needed by the school, because any excess power cannot be sold back to the utility based on the financing mechanism.

The projects are funded through federal and state tax credits and outside investors. “We can use the federal and state tax credits and pass on the savings to you,” Hill told aldermen.

The state tax credits are part of a mandated program to promote renewable energy by the main utility companies, including United Illuminating, which serves Shelton.

Shelton schools had been “pre-selected” by UI as possible participants in the solar panel program, Hill said. “There’s no question these projects will be financed,” she said.

Solar City first approached the BOE about putting up the panels, due to a “short window” in the need to use tax credits through UI.

The aldermen also approved a second resolution to exempt all potential energy purchases from bidding requirements because decisions often have to be made quickly to lock into agreements because of fluctuating prices in the marketplace.

Anglace said it can sometimes be “impractical” to wait to make energy purchases, and Alderman Noreen McGorty said the city “can miss opportunities” if it doesn’t act quickly at times.

Concerns and questions

The aldermen asked questions about roof structural safety, fire safety, snow removal, potential electric shock, and technological advances making the panels obsolete.

Hill said roofs are inspected in advance to make sure they can handle the panels, and no panels are installed on roofs over 10 years old. The company is responsible for any damage the panels might do to the roofs, she said.

Hill said she knows of no structural fires caused by panels installed by Solar City. The company will hold a training session for Shelton firefighters on how to handle the panels during an emergency, she said.

Shelton Fire Chief Fran Jones said local firefighters have received training on how to deal with solar panels, but an additional session by Solar City would be helpful. The department looks forward to “an ongoing relationship” with the company, he said.

Jones said there now are 78 homes with solar panels in Shelton as well as two large businesses, including Walmart. While the panels “present some challenges,” he said, firefighters constantly learn how to adjust to changes from technology and innovation.

Snow removal and summer excess

As for snow removal, six-foot walking paths are created to allow access. Hill noted the panels are slanted and the snow doesn’t stay on them, and the same amount of snow will fall on a roof with or without panels.

Alderman Anthony Simonetti wondered what happened to any excess electricity generated in the summer, when the sun is strongest and there’s limited activity inside schools.

Mayor Mark Lauretti, who was at the meeting, said schools do have electric needs in the summer.

Alderman John Papa asked about the possibility of installing panels on other city buildings. Hill said that could happen in the future, when new rounds of tax credits become available.