Solar project at schools nearly complete

104% of elementary school electricity expected to be generated by sun

The school district is expected to have all the infrastructure installed for solar power when students return from Christmas break.

“We’re making really good time,” said Ken Duva, superintendent of schools. “Everything should be completed by the end of this calendar year.”

Duva updated the school committee about the project at their Dec. 1 meeting. Solar panels have already been installed on the middle school, and the carport in the parking lot of Melrose has been erected. The contractor, Newport Renewables, is now working to install panels onto that canopy. According to Drew Allsopp, vice chairman of the board, the local schools could be powered using the highest percentage of solar energy compared to every other district in Rhode Island.

“We believe so,” Duva said.

Along with subsidizing its utility bill using the sun’s energy, Duva said the district will benefit from this project on an educational front.

“This is not just a cool project, but there is a lot there for our students to learn,” he said.

Photographs using drones have been taken during the installation, and a GoPro camera was utilized during the building of the carport to create a time-lapse video. There also will be television monitors installed at the schools that will show the usage of electricity being generated from the panels. That data also will be put on the website for the public.

“It’s an exciting project that’s happening,” Duva said.

Committeewoman Sally Schott recommended sending artifacts to the Jamestown Historical Society to memorialize the moment when solar was instituted by the district.

“It’s not history yet, but it’s going to be history,” she said.

Duva said the district is planning to host a ribbon-cutting ceremony in the first or second week of February. That is when he expects for the system to be hooked into the grid, and he already has begun inviting dignitaries to the event.

“Even the big dogs,” Schott said.

Chairwoman Michelle Lapierre asked whether Andy Nota, the former town administrator who spearheaded the project, would be invited.

“It’s hard to imagine where this project would be without him,” she said.

Duva said Nota was on the list of invitees.

The committee unanimously outlaid $1.03 million in April to bring solar energy to the district.

“I’m very excited to see this up and happening,” Allsopp said at the time. “I’m looking forward to seeing it in action.”

Although the price exceeds the budget of $897,775 approved by the Rhode Island Department of Education, the district will meet that mark after $235,450 is reimbursed through grants. The project is mostly funded through the bond that voters approved in 2018.

Duva said the bid submitted by the Newport Renewables company was $1.12 million. That price included solar arrays on the roofs of both schools with the erection of a canopy at the elementary school to hold additional panels. The request for proposals, however, asked for the bids to be broken into segments so the committee would have options if the cost outweighed the budget.

The committee was able to get the project within budget by scrapping the solar panels on the roof at Melrose ($82,500). According to Duva, it would have been too costly to upgrade the utility transformer that would be needed to handle the additional load.

The panels ($412,500) on the canopy ($382,500) at Melrose are expected to generate roughly 104 percent of the annual electricity needed for the elementary school. The cost for this portion of the project was subsidized by a $185,300 grant.

The remaining budget of $239,000 was used to install a ballasted roof array at the middle school that will produce about 85 percent of Lawn’s annual electricity needs. This portion qualifies for a grant worth $50,150.