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Belmont

Solar-panel firm concedes to neighbors on school plan

A company that won the bid to install more than 500 solar-power panels on the roof of a Belmont elementary school told the town’s Planning Board last week that it will take measures to control noise from the operation, following concerns from people living nearby that the project would disturb the residential neighborhood.

Neighbors had appeared at several public hearings to voice concerns about potential noise from six inverters that would harness the power generated by the photovoltaic panels on the roof of the Wellington School on Orchard Street. They said they have already been dealing with noise from rooftop heating and cooling equipment ever since the school opened in 2011.

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Broadway Electrical Co., which would install and maintain the panels, originally said placing the inverters in the school’s basement would be too expensive, but at the Planning Board’s meeting Tuesday, project manager Dennis Daru said that the company has redesigned the project to accommodate the neighbors.

“It’s all economics. We never said we couldn’t put them in the basement. We said it would be cost prohibitive to put in the basement,” said Daru. “After further discussion back here we decided to go the extra mile if we could get the project done.” He declined to detail the extra cost of putting the converters in the basement.

Neighbors who were nervous about noise said the company’s announcement has ameliorated their concerns.

“I’m worried about ongoing sound, that’s my personal concern,” said one neighbor, Ruth Gow. “Putting the inverters in the basement to me would be a massive difference. The noise could then be muffled downstairs.”

After receiving the information about the inverters, as well as the results of several studies about the impact of the project, the Planning Board voted to resume its hearing on the proposal during its Dec. 17 meeting .

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The Planning Board is reviewing the solar project as part of a site plan review process that was started because of complaints over the noise from the heating and cooling systems at the school.

The solar-panel installation originated when the town sought proposals for installing the renewable-energy gear on all six of Belmont’s schools.

However, according to the district’s director of finance and administration, Anthony DiCologero, in the process it was determined that the Wellington School is the only building with a roof new enough to support panels.

Daru said the project involves entering into a 20-year contract with the town, where the town will purchase the electricity from the panels at a discounted rate, and Broadway Electrical would keep the proceeds from the sale of the electricity. At the end of the 20 years, Broadway Electrical would remove the panels from the school, unless the town wants to buy the system.

“It’s a win-win for everybody,” Daru said. “It’s good for the school, it’s good for everybody, and I understand the neighbors’ concerns. We certainly don’t want to make [the noise] any worse for them.”

Daru and DiCologero said that the solar panels will not cost the town or the schools any additional money to install or maintain. The panels are projected to save the town approximately $1,000 per year, with an added educational benefit for the Wellington School students.

Nearby resident John Carey said he was grateful to the Planning Board for advocating for the neighborhood.

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“I know for myself that we’re very pleased that the Planning Board has advocated for the residents in this dense residential neighborhood, with past nuisances and potential nuisances,” Carey said. “It was the Planning Board that made sure that the potential noise issues — and they were real — were addressed. I was pleased that the Planning Board encouraged or worked with that team to put the inverters in the basement versus 130 feet away from us’’ on the roof.

Broadway Electrical also presented the Planning Board with a study conducted by Harris Miller Miller & Hanson Inc., a consulting firm that analyzes the effect of solar-panel glare on airplanes flying overhead. Its study said that the panels would not cause glare problems for the community or passing aircraft.


Emily Cataneo can be reached at emilycataneo@gmail.com.