Solar Energy on the Horizon for RMS

            There’s been talk about solar panels coming to the roof of Rochester Memorial School for some time now, and on September 5, the Rochester School Committee took action to make that a reality and provide a significant cost savings for the school district.

            Matt Shortsleeve of Select Energy gave a presentation on his company’s proposal to bring solar energy to RMS, a location he says is a good candidate for roof-mounted solar panels that could save the district around $600,000 throughout the 20-year life of the contract.

            Select Energy previously won the Request for Proposal (RFP) process under the PowerOptions Program, Massachusetts’ non-profit energy consortium, which serves 400 member communities, non-profit organizations, schools, and hospitals in the state.

            RMS, under the authority of the School District and the Board of Selectmen, would contract directly with Select Energy, which will then design, engineer, permit, procure the equipment, install, and maintain the equipment while the school district enjoys a significant savings in utilities.

            The Rochester School District must first enter into an agreement, along with the selectmen, with Select Energy, sign a lease granting Select Energy access to the location, and agree on a payment in lieu of taxes (PILOT) agreement with the Town of Rochester.

            Shortsleeve said his company has so far serviced 65 similar projects across the state with success.

            According to Shortsleeve, roughly 60 percent of the energy the panels produce would provide the school’s annual electricity use, and extra power produced would be exported to the grid and returned to the school at the same “net-metering” rate. The district would enter into a standard power purchase agreement specifying the design of the project, the rate per kilowatt-hour, determination values, expenses, and terms of the lease.

            The lease, Shortsleeve specified, “[It] just gives us access rights to install and maintain… and service the equipment at least once a year.” As for the associated costs of installing and maintaining the equipment, Select Energy would pay for it all.

            Some school districts sublease the sites with the host town, which is what Rochester Town Administrator Suzanne Szyndlar said Rochester’s town counsel recommended.

            Shortsleeve suggested the parties decide whether to move forward or not sooner rather than later since the tax incentives will only decrease as time passes, which means contracted electricity rates would begin to rise.

            “The sooner we go, the better chance that you’ll get a better rate,” said Shortsleeve. “It will creep up on you if you wait.”

            He estimated a rate of about $0.049 per kilowatt-hour if the deal goes through before 2020, a savings of roughly $30,000 a year in electricity costs to the school. In 2020, the offered rate could increase to $0.059, “…Because tax credit drops, so the rate goes up a little bit.”

            “If we can take advantage of it, then why not?” said Facilities Director Gene Jones. “The biggest thing is to get the group to agree… because… they need to get their engineering out here… And Eversource ain’t never in a hurry to interconnect, am I right?”

            Jones said he believes the RMS roof could manage the added weight of the panels; however, he added, “Quite honestly, I’m not an engineer and I want to see what an engineer says.” He continued, “Monetarily, yeah, 4 cents a kilowatt, we’d all like that for 20 years, but I want to know what it’s gonna do to the facility.

            “Go ahead,” he urged the committee, “because it sounds like a sound project, but let’s see the engineering side of it… and if it looks okay – but I even think, get one of our own engineers to take a look at it and see where we are.”

            School Committee member Tina Rood was in favor of moving ahead.

            “Between the cost savings, the green impact on the environment and the world, and, then, as a Green Community, if this allows us opportunities for other grants without harming our building, it’s a win all around for the Town of Rochester. Investigating is the way to go. It doesn’t hurt us to investigate.”

            Rood made the motion to authorize Superintendent Doug White to enter into an agreement on the committee’s behalf, subject to mutual approval by the Board of Selectmen. The committee approved the motion.

            Selectman Greenwood “Woody” Hartley, present at the meeting, said the matter would be added to the board’s next meeting agenda.

            The next meeting of the Rochester School Committee is scheduled for October 3 at 6:30 pm at Rochester Memorial School.

Rochester School Committee

By Jean Perry

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