Schools explore solar

MANCHESTER - Someday in the future, school buildings in the Bennington Rutland Supervisory Union could get much of their electricity through solar power.

In a presentation Monday night held at the BRSU headquarters building in Sunderland led by Dynamic Organics, a Putney-based engineering, renewable energy design and consulting firm, engineers Morgan Casella and Greg DiCerbo described how their company has partnered with Kearsarge Energy to develop solar projects. If the BRSU wanted, they could partner with Dynamic Organics and Kearsarge to develop a solar field to help provide up to 500kw of power to the BRSU through net metering, DiCerbo Said.

Kearsarge, based in Massachusetts, has worked with municipalities and schools to build solar projects and have developed more than 35 megawatts of solar in the past five years.

"The general idea here is to connect our community members with investors to develop these solar projects that work for everyone," DiCerbo said. "We understand that municipalities and school districts are limited in their cash flow, so this is designed to get around that and benefit everyone."

Casella pointed out that schools, as non-profits, cannot take advantage of the tax credits available for building solar projects. Instead, investors in the project get the tax credits and the schools benefit from saving on their energy bill through net metering.

"Generally speaking, [net metering] is a billing mechanism that credits solar energy system owners for the electricity they add to the grid," DiCerbo said.

An important aspect of Vermont net metering laws allows the solar facility to be located anywhere in the utility district. This also allows multiple schools to benefit from the credits of one solar installation.

"We can also get around the problem of we don't have roof space, we don't have a field," DiCerbo said.

Annually, if this field were built, the BRSU could save around $15,000 on their utility bill and nearly $300,000 over 20 years, he said.

Theses numbers, both said, are based off a calculation of how much energy the BRSU currently uses to power its facilities. Almost 1 million kilowatt hours are used each year to power all the facilities, with an annual payment of around $190,000 to Green Mountain Power. Of these kilowatt hours, 54 percent of the utilities are used by Manchester Elementary Middle School and Flood Brook Union School. DiCerbo said Dorset was removed from these calculations because they have their own solar installations.

A way to make this a successful project, Casella said, is to make sure the project is properly sized. With the power needs currently that the BRSU has, the solar facility would be a 600 DC field. This size will allow for future efficiency gains the BRSU may make, he explained.

Financing the project is a bit complicated. DiCerbo said a group of investors will finance the building of the project Dan therefore own the tax credits. In return, BRSU will pay 88 percent of those credits back to Dynamic Organics and Kearsarge, save 12 percent of the credits themselves, while also paying a little directly to Green Mountain Power for their power. DiCerbo and Casella broke out the approximate numbers to give an example of how much the BRSU would potentially be paying and saving.

Currently, the BRSU pays approximately $153,000 annually for power. The annual credits generated would be around $130,000. The BRSU, DiCerbo said, would pay Dynamic Organics and Kearsarge $115,000 and Green Mountain Power approximately $25,000. Therefore, he said, the BRSU would save around $15,000 a year.

Katy McNabb, MEMS school board chair, wanted to know who would buy the land in an agreement such as this. Casella said the land could be leased, if there was not a site appropriate that the BRSU owned. For example, he said, panels could go on the roof of a building if it were large enough.

McNabb also wanted to know what were to happen if a school were to close or become independent, leaving the district.

"If we're looking across those five schools here, we see that Manchester and Flood Brook make up...over 50 percent of this facility," Casella said. "So if you were looking at Sunderland, Metawee and Currier here, you could have one of those three drop out and be OK, but other than that we would design this field a little bit smaller."

However, if in the future, changes were made in the make up of the BRSU, another location that uses a similar amount of power could be added to the agreement, Casella said.

Dan French, superintendent of the BRSU, said he would take all this information and present it to the different school boards through out the fall.


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