Vernon school district investigates solar power


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The Vernon Township Board of Education approved the first step towards a possible solar project, when it authorized Gabel Associates, a consulting firm and DeCotiis, FitzPatrick and Cole, LLP, a law firm, to gather proposals for solar-panel installations in the district.

The fees to develop the proposals will total $7500, but if the district decides to go for the solar project, those costs would be picked up by the developer. If no viable proposals come from it, the district loses the money. The project would be done under a power purchase agreement, where the system is constructed by an investor, who would sell the power back to the district and generate solar renewable energy credits, which can be sold on the renewable energy market. The investor would own the system for 15 years, after which the district has the option to buy out the system or have the investor remove it.

The first step is to gather all the energy data about the schools, including the kind of power used in each building and a bill analysis. Once the bill analysis is complete, the consultants will begin looking at the logistics of how a system would be constructed at the buildings. The two basic systems are a ground-mount system, where the panels sit on an open area near the building, and roof-mounted system, both which could be used in the district.

A ground-mount system would work at a school like Lounsberry Hollow Middle School. The large open area and close proximity would make running lines to the building easier and reduce costs. The field wouldn't be affected by Highlands Act, as solar panels don't count as impervious surfaces, since they aren't mounted directly into the ground, but on racks that sit on the ground. But the real candidate for solar panels would be the high school, an all-electric building that costs close to $1 million a year to run. The roof is relatively new, so it will support a roof-mounted system without doing any damage to the roof. The only downside is that a solar-panel system will only supply a small amount of the total load of the high school. A larger system would not be feasible because it would infringe on the neighbors.

Board members suggested concerns about the maintenance of the roof, and were assured that roof warranty has to be maintained as part of the contract with the solar provider. When the contract is over, the system owner must remove the system and leave roof as it was, unless the district opts to buy the system. In the case of a roof leak, there is a clause where they system can be moved for a certain period of time to do repairs.

A board member asked about a mounting system that would cover the parking lots, but the consultants felt that wouldn't be feasible, given the cost of the structure.

Overall, Vernon is a very attractive site, because there are large open areas close to buildings. The district also has the potential to do a battery project, where some of the solar power is stored in batteries in case of an outage. This would take some of the load off some of the existing generators.

Board member John McGowan asked about potential savings, and the consultants said that they would know better after the analysis is complete.

Board member Robert Hughes wasn't convinced by the project, saying that the numbers presented only represent a 15 percent decrease at the high school.

There would be an educational component as well. Kiosks with information about the system would be available to the students and the public for educational purposes. Also, real time savings data would be available online.

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