ConVal School District votes to pursue solar project

  • Members of the public applaud as the ConVal School Board voted to move forward on a rooftop solar project at the high school on Tuesday evening. Staff photo by Abbe Hamilton—

  • The ConVal School Board agreed to move forward on a rooftop solar project at the high school on Tuesday evening. Staff photo by Abbe Hamilton

  • Members of the ConVal School Board listen to public testimony on the proposed rooftop solar project. The board agreed to move forward on the project at the high school on Tuesday evening. Staff photo by Abbe Hamilton—

  • Michelle Russell of Hancock speaks in favor of the proposed solar array. The ConVal School Board agreed to move forward on a rooftop solar project at the high school on Tuesday evening. Staff photo by Abbe Hamilton—

  • Phil Suter, Peterborough resident and president and CEO of the Greater Keene Chamber of Commerce, speaks in favor of the solar project. The ConVal School Board agreed to move forward on a rooftop solar project at the high school on Tuesday evening. Staff photo by Abbe Hamilton—

  • Emily Mann, chair of the Peterborough Energy Committee, clarified points of confusion about the proposed solar project during the public comment session. The ConVal School Board agreed to move forward on a rooftop solar project at the high school on Tuesday evening. Staff photo by Abbe Hamilton—

  • Student Zoe Werth spoke in favor of the proposed solar project. The ConVal School Board agreed to move forward on a rooftop solar project at the high school on Tuesday evening. Staff photo by Abbe Hamilton—

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Published: 11/6/2019 2:04:41 PM

The ConVal School Board voted to pursue a solar panel installation project on the roof of ConVal Regional High School at their Tuesday night meeting.

The proposed 300-kilowatt project would be operated by the ReVision Energy solar company, which would assume all costs of the project and provide the school district the option of a buyout, to capitalize on additional energy savings, after six years of operation.

“I’m really pleased,” said organizer Michelle Russell after the vote. “There’s still a lot of work, have to educate the whole district about what it means, but this was a huge step – and it was close – so I’m really happy.”

Emily Manns, the chair of the Peterborough Energy Committee, reminded the Board that under the proposed agreement with ReVision Energy, the school district would not assume any cost in engineering, installation, maintenance or monitoring, and although the school could buy the system from ReVision Energy any time after the sixth year of operation, it is not obligated to.

“The bond that would pay for the project is funded by the additional savings of the project, it’s not funded by taxpayers,” she said.

The decision to enter a contract to build and operate the solar array would need to be voted on by taxpayers. In the meantime, a nonbinding letter of intent to move forward on the project would enable ReVision Energy to conduct a more in-depth feasibility study. However, the agreement requires the school district to use ReVision Energy as a sole source provider if the project is found to be feasible and voters approve it.

School Board member Rich Cahoon spoke against waiving or suspending the competitive bidding process.

“If there’s a project that should be subject to a competitive bid, it’s one that binds the district to a provider for twenty years,” he said. “The competitive bidding process exists for a reason.”

“The school said, ‘We want clean energy, we don’t want to pay for it, we want to save money.’ We delivered it,” said Peterborough Energy Committee member Steve Walker during the public comment segment. “ReVision was the only company that has anything close to this. I don’t know anyone else that could do this.”

“They are a great company and they do high-quality work,” said Dori Drachman of the Peterborough Energy Committee.

“Six other Solarize campaigns in New Hampshire have also chosen them. Of the 33 New Hampshire schools, we could find that have rooftop solar... two-thirds of them have used ReVision,” she said, touting the responsibility of the company to its employees and the community.

Through discussion, the board clarified that the school would not bear the feasibility study cost if the roof was determined to be unfit for the project.

Board Chairman Stephan Morrissey said it was premature to get hung up on specific points of the project that were brought up, such as contract and bond language, the way the educational component of the project could look, the accuracy of energy savings estimates, the impact on rooftop snow removal or future roof repairs, or whether the school should eventually buy out the system. He reminded the board that the vote was to negotiate a letter rather than accepting any language as-written.

In a 9 to 4 vote, the board approved suspending the noncompetitive bidding process and proceeding with ReVision Energy as the sole source provider. The board also voted to authorize the Superintendent to draft a nonbinding letter of intent for the project and to prepare a warrant article for the district’s annual March meeting.

Russell said she was pleased with the turnout and community members’ feedback. More than 50 members of the public attended the meeting, with 16 people making comments, all of which were in favor of the project.

A number of attendees wore orange in solidarity of the project. Morrissey said the turnout was almost a record and asked for everyone to turn out again when budget season comes.

There were a number of students in the audience, and Russell said they came independently of any organized club or faculty persuasion, although she said the high school’s environmental club boasts 40 students.

“It’s my future, it’s our future. Education is important, but we can’t have it without climate,” ConVal student Zoe Werth said. “Please do the right thing and get ConVal solar.”


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