City Considers Building Its Own Solar Array at HHS

A Haverhill High School proposal by MassAmerican Energy of Marlborough was rejected earlier by the Haverhill School Committee in a tie vote.

Haverhill City councilors and the Fiorentini administration are awaiting a cost analysis from an outside consultant before the city considers whether to undertake a rooftop solar energy project at Haverhill High School on its own.

Haverhill Purchasing Agent and Energy Manager Orlando Pacheco told councilors Tuesday the city has not decided on a proposal by Sunlight General Capital, New York City, to bring a 1.2 megawatt solar array to the school. As WHAV first reported, the proposal would see the city purchase electricity at 16 cents per kilowatt hour—or about three cents more than a school committee-rejected project proposed by MassAmerican Energy of Marlborough.

LePage Stands By MassAmerican Proposal

City Councilor Colin F. LePage, chairman of Administration and Finance Committee.

City Councilor Colin F. LePage, chairman of Administration and Finance Committee.

Sunlight would also increase prices up to three percent annually and, according to Councilor Colin F. LePage, use only half the high school roof. LePage told WHAV his own cost analysis found the Sunlight proposal would cost the city more than half a million dollars over 20 years if utility rates did not go higher, compared to buying electricity at the current rate.

“If you make the assumption that it will increase by two and a half percent each year and the price is 18 cents at the moment, MassAmerican would deliver over $4 million in cost savings compared to Sunlight’s proposal. If you take the same thing and say utility rates aren’t going to go up at all, then the benefit to the city, with the MassAmerican plan, becomes $3.1 million. And it’s actually a loss because the rate on Sunlight, the escalator they have on the 16 cents (per kwh) will get up to 28 cents,” LePage said.

Should the city consider its own solar project, LePage added, it would face financing a full replacement of the 17-plus-year old high school roof and upfront costs for equipment, among others. He suggested, if so, the city issue a “statement of interest” with the Massachusetts School Building Authority for possible state aid for a roof project.

“I believe a study was done… that we can leverage getting assistance from the school building authority and pay 25 to 30 percent because of what our reimbursement rate is. And then put in the capital ourselves and then we don’t have a third party that we’re making a contract with and doing it ourselves,” LePage said.

In July, less than a month after the MassAmerican proposal was defeated by the Haverhill School Committee, Councilor William J. Macek estimated a new roof at the high school would cost the city as much as $2.7 million.

MassAmerican Opponent First to Suggest City Undertake Project Itself

School Committeeman Scott W. Wood Jr.

School Committeeman Scott W. Wood Jr.

As WHAV also reported July 28, the idea of the city pursuing its own high school solar project was raised by Haverhill School Committeeman Scott W. Wood Jr. He was among three committee votes against the MassAmerican proposal one month earlier. It was defeated in a 3 to 3 tie.

Wood said in July, after speaking with the state’s Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs, he was convinced the city could undertake the project itself instead of sharing electricity revenue and savings with MassAmerican. He described the company as merely a “broker.”

“The one that I think is most financially advantageous to the city of Haverhill is actually for us to do the project.” Wood explained a number of communities and state departments have successfully built their own solar projects without the needs to share profits with investors. Adopting such a plan, he said, would save the city substantially more than the $10 million city councilors say is at risk. In addition, Wood said, there is grant money as well as low-interest renewable energy bonds available to communities.

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