Council Demands School Committee Reconsider HHS Solar Deal

Proposed rooftop solar energy arrays at Haverhill High School.

Mayor James J. Fiorentini.

Mayor James J. Fiorentini.

While granting approval to three new solar energy agreements, Haverhill city councilors Tuesday night asked Mayor James J. Fiorentini to help reverse a Haverhill School Committee “roadblock” to replacing the roof at Haverhill High School and adding solar panels.

All eight councilors present voted to approve a motion by Vice President Melinda E. Barrett to send letters asking the school committee and Fiorentini, chairman, to reconsider its 3 to 3 vote last month which halted plans by MassAmerican Energy, Marlborough, to install a new roof and 2.2 megawatt solar array atop the high school. Without an agreement, it could cost the city as much as $2.7 million to later replace the 17-year old roof on its own, according to Councilor William J. Macek. He called the high school solar proposal “a no-brainer” and, by an amendment, asked the school committee for a “creative solution” to the “predicament they put us into.” He argued school buildings, as capital projects funded by the city and taxpayers, are not under school committee authority.

City Councilor William J. Macek.

City Councilor William J. Macek.

“I don’t think they should have the right to roadblock us for a solar project and a new roof, a capital improvement. Who pays for capital improvements on our school buildings? We do, city side. I think that’s enough that we should be able to move forward with this, however we have an opinion it doesn’t and we don’t want to get it all tied up in legality. What we want to do is get the school to not miss the boat on this one and let a new roof – a free new roof under this program –slide through our fingers and we have to just pony up for a new roof,” Macek said.

City Solicitor William D. Cox Jr., however, told councilors the city, as “landlord,” cannot act without approval from the high school’s “tenant,” the school committee. He added an opinion from outside counsel with Koppleman and Page confirmed his opinion.

“School committee approval is required. Not in the event of an ordinary repair, but in the event of an improvement to the school you need to have the approval of the school committee. This is the dynamic. This is how it has been set up. And this is how we must operate because that is the current law,” Cox said. He added the mayor is seeking a modified proposal “within the confines of the procurement law” toward committee approval.

Haverhill Purchasing Agent and Energy Manager Orlando Pacheco advocated for the high school solar project.

Haverhill Purchasing Agent and Energy Manager Orlando Pacheco advocated for the high school solar project.

Energy Manager Orlando Pacheco said moving the MassAmerican proposal forward would, in addition to new roof, provide an educational benefit to students in the high school’s STEM program, among others.

“This RFP (request for proposals) actually had an educational component embedded in the response. We haven’t really hammered out that piece yet. But it could be in the form of curriculum assistance from a STEM perspective which I think is something every school department really needs to think about. The scientific environment in which we live in has changed dramatically, especially in the advent of nanotechonolgy. We can’t change human behavior into how we use energy if you don’t understand how your behavior impacts what you draw. It’s small money that can have a really big impact,” Pacheco said.

Council President John A. Michitson called the school committee’s rejection of the solar project “outrageous.”

Meanwhile, councilors also voted 8 to 0 to approve three new, separate solar power purchase agreements, including two rooftop solar projects from Solect Energy at City Hall and the new Elmo D’Alessandro police fleet maintenance garage. A third agreement with Seaboard Solar Holdings allows the water and wastewater departments to purchase power from a five megawatt solar array in Oxford at a fixed rate of 12 cents per kilowatt hour over 20 years.

Councilor Michael S. McGonagle was absent.

3 thoughts on “Council Demands School Committee Reconsider HHS Solar Deal

  1. It will be interesting to find out WHO really has the power here, The City Council is the elected body who represents the interests of residents of the city. I always found it crazy that the residents have no power over things like the stadium and what happens there as the Stadium Commission controls that entity, even charging city programs for it’s use. The City Council is right to demand the School committee get on board and stop playing petty politics.