Solar power on the rise in Norwalk school buildings

A solar array carport on the parking deck at Bowtie Royale 6 theater plaza at 542 Westport Ave. Wednesday, June 20, 2018, in Norwalk, Conn.

A solar array carport on the parking deck at Bowtie Royale 6 theater plaza at 542 Westport Ave. Wednesday, June 20, 2018, in Norwalk, Conn.

Erik Trautmann / Hearst Connecticut Media

NORWALK — As Jefferson Elementary School undergoes a more than $30 million renovation, it will also be equipped with solar power, potentially saving the city hundreds of thousands in the coming years. And there are plans for solar power to soon spread to other district schools as well.

Through Mayor Harry Rilling’s Energy Taskforce, the city reached an agreement in 2017 with Middletown-based Greenskies Clean Energy to consider the installation of solar panels each time a new school building construction project arises, according to city documents.

But since Greenskies was chosen through a bidding process as the city’s photovoltaic developer, only Naramake Elementary School has received solar panels so far, Building and Facilities Manager Alan Lo said during Tuesday’s Common Council meeting.

“The negotiation of the legal terms relating to the development of a form Power Purchase Agreement (PPA) took significant time,” Lo said. “The first two buildings the city considered were City Hall and Norwalk High School. Both projects were not successful due to unknown structural conditions and existing conditions.”

Naramake was completed about a year ago, with more soon to follow.

Next in line to receive solar power is Jefferson, which is currently undergoing a $33 million renovation that resulted in the two-year displacement of students. The school is expected to reopen in the fall.

While Naramake is the only municipal building powered by solar panels, two schools have confirmed plans for solar and other schools are on the city’s radar for solar energy, Lo said.

“Ponus (STEM School) is scheduled for this year,” Lo said. “Jefferson — end of this year or beginning of next year.”

The South Norwalk Elementary School and new Norwalk High School, both of which are still in the planning phases, are expected to have solar panels when they constructed, as well as Cranbury Elementary School, Lo said.

NPS is planning a solar option for all new schools, as the panels are best suited to newly constructed roofs, according to a memo regarding the solar installation.

The age of City Hall’s roof is part of why it was not found structurally sound enough to support solar panels, as the building was first constructed in the 1930s and served as the Norwalk High School until 1988.

“Each time a project is identified, Norwalk Public Schools enters into a Solar Power & Services Agreement directly with Greenskies Clean Energy LLC,” the memo read. “Each Solar Power & Services Agreement allows the Norwalk Public Schools to lease solar panels for a length of time (typically 20 years) and benefit from the large energy savings while taking advantage of green incentives at the same time.”

Payments will be made annually to Greenskies for the panels’ lease and will come from the city’s utility account, Lo said.

“All the projects we are going to look at it (solar power) seriously and also other energy features we can include in each one of these projects,” Lo said at Wednesday’s Land Use and Building Management Committee meeting.

In using the PPA, the city will save between 5 and 6 cents per kilowatt, Lo said.

The agreement is also most efficient and cost effective than the alternative of delegating funds through the capital budget process and having a company install the panels, as with the PPA, Greenskies monitors the meter’s use in realtime and is in charge of maintenance, Lo said.

Lo said the city won’t know yet what will be done once the 20 years is up, as the technology behind the solar panels will likely be outdated, but the city may have the option to purchase the system outright.

Over the 20-year period for which the city is leasing the panels, Norwalk will save an estimated $675,000 on energy costs, Director of Facilities and Maintenance Bill Hodel said.