CHELMSFORD — A project aimed at greatly reducing the town’s energy use — and saving hundreds of thousands of dollars a year in the process — is under way this fall.
This month, work began on installing solar panels at the high school, which will receive 1,070 panels, and Harrington Elementary School, which will have 884 panels. Panels will be added later this fall to the Byam and Center elementary schools, with the others to follow next spring.
Work on the panels should last about two months, and work can continue into the winter months until conditions become icy, according to Kathleen Canavan, the town facilities manager.
So far, a new boiler has been installed at Town Hall, and new lighting at the police station. In the schools, it has largely been less-visible improvements like toilets and faucets that use less water. New heating systems were planned to become operable this week in the high school and Byam and Harrington elementary schools, joining new ventilation units that bring fresher air into classrooms.
“I think students will see the difference quicker than I will,” schools business manager Kathy McWilliams said. It is too soon, she said, for the efficiencies to show in the schools’ energy bills.
The $18.1 million project, approved by voters at May Town Meeting, will include visible improvements and those not so easy to see.
“It’s not only kinetic fixes in the project,” Canavan told the School Committee last week. “A lot of
energy-saving measures come through passive implementations,” she said, mentioning things like more efficient lighting fixtures and programmable temperature controls.
Solar panels will be added by next spring to the roofs of all seven public schools, plus the Community Education Center, formerly the Westlands School, and the new Department of Public Works building on Alpha Road. A ground-mounted solar array will also be built behind Harrington Elementary School.
Those solar panels are expected to produce 2.4 kilowatt-hours of electricity and offset $330,000 in energy costs each year.
More than 2,200 streetlights across town will be installed with energy-efficient LEDs, or light-emitting diodes. A few roads were tested first on a pilot basis, and the lights are about to roll out townwide.
Money borrowed for the improvements would be paid back over 20 years by money saved by more efficient equipment and from solar electricity. Johnson Controls, the company hired by the town to oversee the project, has guaranteed the savings.
Benefits will be seen in town finances and in the town’s so-called carbon footprint, the effect of power consumption on the environment, officials have said.
The town’s $1.6 million spent each year on utility costs for town-owned buildings will be cut by an estimated 43 percent or $688,000, according to Johnson Controls. By the end of the 20-year payback period, the project is expected to earn the town more than $24,000 annually thanks to efficiency improvements and electricity created by the solar panels, the company estimates.
Chelmsford’s carbon footprint will also be reduced by the equivalent of taking 431 cars off the road, according to Johnson Controls.
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