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Officials eye solar power at Dr. Crisp

NASHUA – The Board of Education’s Finance and Operations Committee is considering solar panels for the roof of Dr. Norman W. Crisp Elementary School.

During a recent committee meeting, Revision Energy Director of Market Development Dan Weeks discussed the financial aspects of bringing solar to the school.

Revision is a full-service solar company, which is currently working with the city of Nashua to install solar panels on several building rooftops.

One challenge addressed in the presentation by Weeks was the fact that many cities cannot afford upfront costs of solar panels. He said an outright purchase would typically take up to 20 years to fund.

This is where a solar power purchase agreement (PPA) comes into play. In a PPA, the school would license its roof to a third-party finance partner for solar. The upfront cost would be zero for the Nashua School District. The PPA rate for the Nashua School District would be 8.8 cents per kilowatt-hour, increasing 2% per year after the second year.

The partner would have the responsibility of building and operating the solar array, and would have ownership for five or more years.

At year six, the district would have the option to purchase a buyout. In this case, the buyout would cost about $400,000.

Weeks said he believes it is the desire of the leaders at the city level, as stakeholders in the community, to see as much solar deployed as possible to reduce the burden on taxpayers associated with the operational costs of electricity.

“The cost of solar panels continues to go down; the efficiency of solar panels continues to improve,” Weeks said.

The Dr. Crisp school would be the first school in the Nashua School District to go through this process. Weeks said this school is a good option because the roof is relatively new. He said the panels could last more than 30 years, if well maintained.

If purchased, the solar panels would, on an annual basis, provide more power than what is needed by the school, according to Weeks.

“Each time the sunlight hits the panels, that power would first feed the school. And at times in the summer, when load probably lower and production is certainly higher because of longer days, that excess power net meter would be delivered to the utility grid and the electrons would literally power neighboring homes in that part of town,” Weeks said.

Weeks said the school would be credited for that excess power at the net metering rate.

If installed, these panels would be out of sight for those on ground level.

“They’ll be low, not more than a foot off, starting at about an inch off the roof deck, and then rising at a 10-degree pitch to about a foot at their peak,” Weeks said.

Weeks’ proposal drew criticism from board members William Mosher and Howard Coffman. Mosher said while he believes solar is a valuable system to have, he would rather have “the connection to an external place (such as a solar farm) where they are going to generate the electricity out there and (he) would get the benefits from it.”

“I think your plan is good, but not for here,” Mosher added.

“Why would I want to put panels on my roof if I can get solar-produced energy that someone else has a farm to do it and I have no infrastructure impact at all?” Coffman asked. “I don’t have to worry about my equipment… I don’t have to maintain it.”

Coffman also said, “As much as I think it’s a great idea, I’m not convinced… I don’t think it saves us money in the long haul.”

The idea of a buyout at nearly $400,000 after six years also came as a concern to Coffman.

“One of the real issues is if (we) wanted a buyout, where to come up with $400,000,” Coffman said. “That’s a huge chunk of money to us, even if it’s five years out.”

In addressing concerns, Weeks told committee members, “I would not want to waste my team’s time if we did not see savings as well.”

He later added, “If you do not believe there can be savings, then you certainly, in my view, should not proceed. But based on our conservative modeling and our experience with dozens of other schools and municipalities, we have an expectation of meaningful savings.”

Nashua School District Chief Operating Officer Dan Donovan said he believed it would make sense for Weeks to come to a full board meeting or to get more people to hear the presentation before coming to a conclusion. Donovan said he also had a few questions he wants to ask city officials, including what their financing plan is for their PPA.

By the end of the discussion, committee Chair Dotty Oden made the motion to table a recommendation until Donovan receives answers to his questions and the full board has an opportunity to hear the presentation and weigh in on the subject. The motion was seconded by Mosher and passed 2-1.

The board will discuss the matter at a later time.

Grace Pecci may be reached at 594-1243 or gpecci@nashuatelegraph.com.