City Aims For Solar-Powered Schools

Allan Appel File PhotoCome next summer, sunshine hitting the roof of Hillhouse High could mean clean energy for students and teachers, and money saved for New Haven taxpayers.

That’s because the city is looking to have solar panel arrays installed on top of Hillhouse and on the roofs of three other schools in New Haven—Cross, King-Robinson, and John C. Daniels.

The city hopes to tap into a state program that encourages solar energy use through a system of “Renewable Energy Certificate.” The City Plan Commissionlast Wednesday voted unanimously to recommend the city take part in the program. The Board of Aldermen’s Education Committee will take up the matter this Wednesday.

Here’s how it works, according to Giovanni Zinn, who works in the city’s Office of Sustainability:

The city has entered into a tentative 15-year agreement with a national company called SolarCity to put solar panels on four schools. SolarCity would own the panels and the city would pay the company for the electricity they generate, expected to be 200,000 to 500,000 kilowatt hours per school per year.

The city would save over $30,000 on electricity costs a year under the arrangement, Zinn said. And, “if energy prices rise, our benefit gets bigger and bigger.”

The payments from the city would be one of two sources of funding for the solar panel arrays. SolarCity would also receive money from United Illuminating (UI) for Renewable Energy Certificates. That’s thanks to Public Act 11-80, under which Connecticut power companies UI and Connecticut Light and Power are required to spend $8 million this year on zero-emissions energy, like solar power.

There’s no guarantee, however, that UI will purchase the credits from SolarCity, hence the tentative nature of the city’s agreement with the solar company. SolarCity has submitted its asking price to a “reverse auction” run by UI. The power company will dole out its $8 million in order of best price. The city will know by mid-July if SolarCity is among the lucky winners.

Then, some time in August, SolarCity would sign a contract with UI, Zinn said. If all goes well, city schools could have solar panels in place by next summer, he said.

Along with the fuel cell powering City Hall, the new solar panels would “solidify New Haven’s position as a leader and innovator in renewable energy systems,” Zinn said.

“It’s a great opportunity,” he said. “It saves money and it saves the environment, which is what we’re looking for.”

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posted by: East Rocker on June 25, 2012  12:48pm

This seems like a decent idea in general, but I hesitate at the city committing to any sort of energy deal for 15 years.  It seems to me that we have no idea what the energy market will look like in 15 years and whether or not this will be a good deal.  But, I suppose that’s the kind of commitment Solar City needs to ensure they can pay off the cost of the solar panels.  NHI - is the rate the city is committing to a pre-determined rate (i.e. x cents/kwh) or is it tied to some other benchmark, i.e. x cents less than whatever UI is charging?

posted by: streever on June 25, 2012  1:25pm

I think this is a great step—and, even after 15 years, I suspect it will be a worthwhile improvement.

Seemingly, the most reliable prediction is that energy costs will rise. The odds of energy costs zeroing out in the next 15 years seem so low that I think this deal is a good one.

posted by: Morris Cove Mom on June 25, 2012  9:59pm

This seems great except for the fact that focusing on the energy/financial savings will not do anything to improve the teaching in this, or any of the schools.

posted by: WM90 on June 27, 2012  12:15pm

This is a terrific way for New Haven to save money. Solar is a great investment for homeowners and organizations of all sizes ( It would be wonderful to see more public and private entities saving money with ideas such as this.