SOMERSET — About 1,200 solar panels have been placed on top of Somerset Berkley Regional High School and those panels will provide about 20 percent of the building's electricity, saving appoximately $19,000 per year.
The panels are on the roofs that are over the gymnasium, student dining center and performing arts center, and will produce 348 kilowatts of electricity.
Somerset Berkley Regional School Committee Chairman Richard Peirce said the solar panel system was installed at no cost to the taxpayers in Somerset and Berkley or the regional school district. He said the school district will receive credits on its electricity bill for power produced by the panels.
"We think it's a win-win situation for everyone," Peirce said.
Peirce said it took some time to get the solar panel project completed, but said it finally happened and is about to go online.
Peirce said the model school design that was used to build the high school accommodates solar panels on the roofs. He said wiring was already in place for such a system.
The new school building opened three years ago, but Peirce said it had not been financially feasible up until this time, to install solar panels. There had been grant funding that the state was offering for solar projects, but it had dried up by the time the school district wanted to put in the panels.
A ribbon cutting for the completion of the solar panel project was held at the high school last Tuesday.
Peirce said that the regional school district also has another agreement in place to purchase electricity from a solar field in Rehoboth that will provide another 40 percent of the high school's electricity. He said he hopes to be able to provide even more than 60 percent of the electricity at the high school with solar power in the future.
Matt Shortsleeve, vice president of development at Solect Energy, said that two or three years ago, he talked to Somerset Selectman David Berube about possible solar energy and power purchase agreements in town. Solect Energy is a photovoltaic project developer and installer that delivers smart solar and energy management solutions to help businesses and organizations reduce energy costs. Shortsleeve said that he and Berube talked about the town's need for revenue with the Brayton Point power plant closing and saving money in the municipal budget. He said the high school was identified as a place where some savings could take place with solar power and so he reached out to Peirce. He said they then met with Lindsey Albernaz, director of business and finance for the regional school district. Shortsleeve said the building already had all of the fittings to be solar ready.
Shortsleeve, who said the system will go online after a new meter is installed, said the energy from the solar panels on the high school will be consumed first and then electricity from the grid will supplement that.
Shortsleeve said there is also a real good opportunity for student engagement with the solar panels. He said they can be taught about the economic and environmental benefits of the solar panels and the science of them.
"Ongoing, this is a no cash out proposition," Shortsleeve said.
Albernaz said getting the solar panels on the roof was a year-long process. She said locking in an electricity rate with Solect Energy is a great deal, especially since the school district does not know what electricity rates will be over the next 20 years. Albernaz said Peirce helped to educate her about solar energy and Carlos Campos, director of buildings and grounds for the schools, also assisted with the project. She said Somerset Berkley Regional High School Principal David Lanczycki and vice principals Susan Brelsford and Kim DoCouto let students and families know about what was going on with the installation of the solar panels on the roof of the building.
Albernaz said because the high school is such a high tech building, the servers are always on. She said the school's tempered air system, security system, cameras and heating, ventilation and air conditioning system use a lot of the electricity in the building. Albernaz said the new high school uses more electricity than the old building, but less heat, because it is a more energy efficient building.
Walter Gray, of PowerOptions, a non-profit energy buying consortium that provides group purchase programs, said putting up solar panels at no cost to the taxpayers and school district is a complicated matter that a lot of times does not make it through the approval process. He said PowerOptions thinks the agreement with the Somerset Berkley Regional School District is "a great deal" and they are delighted to see the project finished, not only because of the sale of the electricity, but because of the greener future for the high school.
Rain water is also recycled to use in the toilets of the high school which is a silver level "green school" under the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification program.