Council Confusion Delays Vote on Rooftop Solar Projects

Council Vice President Melinda E. Barrett seeks answers about panel installations.

Haverhill city councilors delayed action on two rooftop solar projects, saying they are confused by last week’s Haverhill School Committee vote against placing solar panels on the roof of Haverhill High School.

Council Vice President Melinda E. Barrett said she would like answers to all the questions raised by School Committee members.

“It’s a big project and a lot of money to pass by the boards,” she said. Barrett called on school board members to reconsider their vote against adding a 2.2 megawatt array at the high school. Mayor James J. Fiorentini said he already asked but the time allowed under the city charter to reconsider votes has passed. “If a storm is coming and we can save seven, nine, $15 million over the course of 20 years, I think we owe it to the taxpayers to pursue this. And I’d hate to just let it wither and die,” Barrett added.

Fiorentini said he is asking for an opinion from the city’s outside legal counsel, Kopelman and Paige of Boston, whether the committee has jurisdiction over solar projects on school roofs. Meanwhile, the mayor said, he has heard from SunEdison about moving ahead on a 2.1 megawatt solar installation at the city’s former Old Groveland Road landfill. Although the Missouri-based company declared bankruptcy in April, it has expressed interest in completing the project, Fiorentini said.

Councilors delayed votes on adding solar arrays to the new Elmo D’Alessandro Fleet Maintenance Garage, used by the Haverhill Police Department, and City Hall until the city’s purchasing agent can answer questions. The City Hall project would generate 170 kilowatts of electricity, while the garage project would generate 81.9 kilowatts. Both are being developed by Solect Energy Development of Hopkinton.

Frank Goppel, director of business development at Solect, said engineers looked at the roofs of the two buildings and found they can handle the weights of both snow and solar panels. During last week’s debate over adding panels at the high school, a School Committee member said he was worried about a prohibition on shoveling snow off the roof after solar panels are placed. Barrett said she wants a final answer on those weight concerns.

Both the City Hall and garage projects would require the city to buy the energy at currently discounted rates for the next 20 years. Again, last week, school committee members questioned whether electric rates would remain steady over that period. Councilor Colin F. LePage said obtaining answers would be a “prudent thing to do.”

Councilors agreed to wait for Purchasing Agent and Energy Manager Orlando Pacheco to return from vacation before approving projects.

One thought on “Council Confusion Delays Vote on Rooftop Solar Projects

  1. My question is WHY weren’t these questions asked and answered BEFORE the original Request for Proposal was put out ? These are not new questions and seem to be common sense thoughts. It only exhibits the lack of seriousness on the part of some Committee members and their immaturity when it comes to voting in these situations.