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Burlington

High school could go solar

Official says town would save$135k a year on power

Burlington school officials say the town would save $135,000 a year in energy costs under a plan to place solar panels on the high school roof.

Two firms submitted bids for the contract to install the solar array and operate the system, according to Craig Robinson, director of finance and operations for the schools. The town would buy electricity from the selected firm for 15 years, after which it would take ownership of the system. The two firms submitting bids were Hudson Energy Solar of Ramsey, N.J., and Select Energy Development of Hopkinton.

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The approximately 2-megawatt array would supply about 63 percent of the building’s electrical power needs.

“It’s a good deal,’’ Robinson said. “We’ll be saving $135,000 a year in our electric bill. We will be a greener school.”

Robinson said he expects to recommend the selection of one of the firms to the School Committee at its meeting Tuesday. A vote on whether to choose a firm and move forward is expected on May 28.

The district and the selected firm then would need to secure an agreement with NStar, the residential power distributor for the town, to purchase any excess energy the system produces, Robinson said. If that occurs, construction would move forward and the system could begin operation next summer.

Mark Sylvia, commissioner of the state’s Department of Energy Resources, said in a statement regarding Burlington’s initiative, “The success of the solar industry in Massachusetts is happening one community, one business, and one resident at a time. [The department] is always excited to see municipalities bringing solar to their communities, reducing our reliance on traditional energy sources and protecting our environment.”

‘It’s a good deal. . . . We will be a greener school.’

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According to the agency, communities that have installed solar arrays at schools include Beverly, which has a 100-kilowatt solar field that was installed at its high school in 1981 and is still operating, and an 83-kilowatt rooftop system installed in 2011.

Melrose has a 50-kilowatt solar system on the roof of its Veterans Memorial Middle School, which opened in 2007.

Newburyport installed solar panels atop the Nock Middle School/Molin Upper Elementary School building, as well as the roof of the public works building, in a project completed in 2009 that is generating 502 kilowatts of power.

Mashpee, Medway, Natick, Norwell, and Sutton also have solar arrays on schools, according to the state.

Robinson said Hudson Energy Solar approached Burlington school officials several months ago to propose the solar project, calling the high school ideal site for it. He said the district decided to pursue the idea, but opted to invite bids to ensure the best possible deal.

The plan calls for the selected firm to recoup its costs, which would include a one-time fee to the town to rent the roof, by selling the power to the town over the 15-year period of the contract.

Robinson said that the district currently pays 18 cents per kilowatt hour for its electricity, half of which goes to its power supplier, TransCanada, and the other half to NStar, which transmits the power.

He said the selected solar firm would charge the town 11 cents per kilowatt hour over the 15 years. The annual savings would rise significantly once the town took ownership of the system.

“We are excited about it,” said School Superintendent Eric Conti. “Craig [Robinson] and I have been talking about this for a long time and it seems now that the marketplace is such that it is making this something that is financially feasible.”

While the chance to reduce energy costs was the impetus, officials said there are other benefits.

“Supposedly, we are going to be saving 263 trees a year,” Robinson said. “We are going to save 1,946,503 pounds per year of carbon dioxide, 3,373 pounds of nitrous oxide, and 12,562 pounds of sulfur dioxide. Those are all byproducts of fossil fuels.”

Conti said a rooftop solar array could also be a valuable teaching tool.

“We are always looking at educational opportunities,’’ he said. “If a building can . . . become part of a learning environment, then it benefits everybody.”

Conti noted that both the recently renovated and expanded Marshall Simonds Middle School and the new Memorial Elementary School have monitoring stations that allow faculty and students to track the energy being saved through such features as more efficient boilers.

He said other green energy building features can also be incorporated into the curriculum. For example, a “gray water” recycling system at the Memorial School teaches students about the water cycle.

Conti said a solar array on the high school roof could similarly provide insights for students learning about energy consumption.

The solar project is unrelated to a proposed $18 million renovation of the high school that the district is seeking to undertake. Burlington recently submitted a “statement of interest” to the Massachusetts School Building Authority, the first step in seeking partial state reimbursement for updating the building’s mechanical systems.

John Laidler can be reached at laidler@globe.com.
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