Schools Superintendent Colleen Palmer told the selectmen at the board’s regular meeting on Wednesday, Feb. 12, that after extensive research, the district has decided that solar panels aren’t right for the schools. “We won’t be bringing the project to the building committee for further review,” she said.
The district was initially interested in installing solar panels, which utilize the rays of the sun to produce energy, on three schools as a green energy initiative. However, after conducting a cost/benefit analysis, Dr. Palmer said solar panels could cause more harm than good on the roofs, so they aren’t being considered at this time.
After the meeting, Allen Swerdlowe, chairman of the town’s building committee, said the committee advised the schools against installing the solar panels. “We didn’t think it would be a good idea to put the roofs in jeopardy by installing solar panels on them,” he said.
The committee has researched solar panels and alternative energy sources for the past five years, and generally is favorable toward them. But not all roofs lend themselves well to solar panels, Mr. Swerdlowe said.
After conducting extensive research on solar panels, and examining the cost/benefits, Dr. Palmer said she has concerns that the roofs would be weakened from penetrations that would be made in order to install the solar panels.
The schools have operational challenges to make sure they do not denigrate the infrastructure, she said. One of her chief concerns was possible leaking, water damage, and mold that could occur from the installation of the panels. “A roof warranty may address these issues, but it’s like insurance, you never want to have to use it. When you increase the penetrations to a roof, no matter how well a solar panel is sealed, there are risks to consider,” she said.
She said the schools also bear an expense when the roofs have to be shoveled to keep snow off, and solar panels could possibly complicate the shoveling and add to the expense of clearing the roofs.
There was an additional problem with panels going on two of the schools. Dr. Palmer said they would have to be installed at a “lower angle of incidence” than first anticipated, so the cost savings from them would have been much less than was first projected.
“We became more worried about making a long-term commitment for solar panels that were going to be there for a long term. We started to ask, is this the right building, and is this the right time to start this project?” she said.
Last fall, Dr. Palmer said she ruled out installing solar panels on those two schools, but kept the possibility open for installing them on the intermediate school. “But after doing a cost/benefit analysis, it didn’t seem best to pursue this limited scope of work at this time,” she said.
Dr. Palmer told the selectmen that while the possibility of realizing energy savings from solar panels might initially look good, when you “peeled away the layers of the onion” there were concerns that the decision might not yield the benefits they were looking for.
Mr. Swerdlowe said that while he did not think solar panels were a good match for the schools, he did think they would be a possible fit for the town’s transfer station. “That’s something the committee would be interested in exploring,” he said.
Noel Lafayette, founder of SHR Energy Management, the developer who would coordinate the solar panel project, said he hopes the schools will have a change of heart. He believes they would realize a significant savings in their energy bills with the solar panels.
He said the panels could be installed this spring and in the summer with no intrusion on the students.