Wilton schools to go solar?

The Wilton Energy Commission is looking to install solar panels on top of Miller-Driscoll School, Middlebrook School and Wilton High School next summer as part of its new Municipal Solar Project.

At its Dec. 19 meeting, the Board of Selectmen approved the hiring of New Canaan-based clean energy development consultant MHR Development to help find and manage a vendor for the project.

Wilton Energy Commission Co-chair Richard Creeth brought the Board of Education up to date on the project, which the commission has been working on for about six months, during the board’s Dec. 8 meeting.

The town of Wilton pledged to reduce its energy consumption 20% by the year 2020, said Creeth, and the Municipal Solar Project is going to be “a significant part” of that.

“It also is going to be a significant reduction in the town’s carbon footprint,” he said, “and a building block to energy independence.”

The project’s objective is to generate solar energy locally in order to satisfy part of the town’s school electricity requirements at a price lower than for electricity purchased from Eversource and other providers.

“This is basically a 20-year program,” said Creeth, “and by year 20, electrical savings are expected to exceed $1.1 million.”

In the first year of the Municipal Solar Project’s implementation, Creeth said, the town would save “at least $30,000.”

“The key to this is that we will be generating power and paying for that at a price that’s lower than what we pay to the utility,” he said.

“That price is going to be fixed for the duration of the project. In 20 years’ time, we’d still be paying the same amount.”

ZRECs


Under state law, Eversource and United Illuminating are required to make $1.02 billion in zero-emission renewable energy credit (ZREC) and low-emission renewable energy credit (LREC) purchases from clean energy projects over six years.

As part of the program, the utility companies will spend $720 million on ZRECs, which originate from sources like solar, wind and small hydro that generate no emissions.

“A ZREC is basically one megawatt-hour of generated power,” said Creeth.

Through the Municipal Solar Project, Eversource would pay the town $125 for every megawatt-hour of electricity that it generates from the new solar panels, said Creeth, “which really makes the finances work in our favor.”

Power purchase agreement


For the project, the town would commit to a power purchase agreement (PPA) from a third-party financer, which would likely be the Connecticut Green Bank, said Creeth.

“A PPA will actually hire a developer to put the whole system on the … roofs and they’ll own it,” said Creeth.

All the town would have to do, he said, is “sign an agreement that says we will buy the power that the thing generates.”

Under the PPA program terms, a solar system is purchased and installed by a third party.

The party would be responsible for all ongoing costs associated with the system, would own the power the system generates, and would sell that power to the town at a price defined in the PPA.

With a PPA, there is no investment from the town, said Creeth — merely a commitment to purchase the power.

There is a 20-year fixed rate for solar power in a PPA, and solar generation would directly offset each site’s electric bill.

Because a third party would be responsible for installation costs, maintenance, operation, and eventual removal of the system, the town would assume no responsibility for the equipment.

After 20 years, the town could then elect to extend the PPA, remove the equipment at no cost, or purchase the array at fair market value.

Net metering


Net metering — the system in which the solar panels would connect to a public-utility power grid — would be leveraged from Eversouce, said Creeth, and excess kilowatt-hours (kWh) generated by the panels would be transferred onto the grid, offsetting the cost of future electric bills.

There is a one-to-one transaction value per kWh, “regardless of when the power was created and consumed,” Creeth noted.

Unconsumed kWh credits that a school banked while closed in July, for example, would be applied to its August/September electric bills until consumed.

Steps forward


In July, ZRECs were bonded with Eversource for $9,860 and the Board of Selectmen directed Chris Burney, facilities and energy management director, and the Wilton Energy Commission to begin the rooftop validation process, financial analysis of the acquisition alternatives and request for proposal (RFP) process.

In October, the selectmen approved structuring of the solar RFP to solicit bids for a turnkey power purchase agreement proposal.

With the selectmen’s approval earlier this week, Wilton Energy Commission Co-chair Debra Thompson-Van told The Bulletin, “we will be looking for assistance to get the word out that we will be pursuing an RFP for the solar on [the] schools.”

“We will be issuing one RFP, and the way we’re expecting it to work is the solar vendor will come in, structural engineers will come in, and we will validate what the roofs are,” Thompson-Van said at the Board of Selectmen’s Dec. 19 meeting.

“We will then — not directly — contract with solar vendors. We, the town, contract with the PPA holder, who then turns around and contracts with that solar vendor for the equipment.”

The next step in the process requires the selectmen’s approval of a PPA provider and solar installation vendor, followed by its approval of a solar installation plan and dates.

According to Creeth, the energy commission hopes to finish the RFP in January so the solar panels can be installed over the summer.