Bandaging Old Wounds, School Committee Supports Possible HHS Solar Panels

Orlando Pacheco, Haverhill’s energy advisor, addresses the School Committee last Thursday night. (WHAV News photograph.)

Two years after a School Committee vote stalemate, Haverhill is trying again to bring solar panels to the high school.

This time, instead of rooftop panels, the city is thinking of placing the units over a parking lot at the school. Former city Purchasing Agent Orlando Pacheco, now an energy advisor, explained Thursday night.

“It was about 1 megawatt—or produces about one million kilowatts of power—spread out across the high school parking lot,” he said.

The panels would be built on what are called “canopies” over the student parking lot. It is not yet certain whether the city will buy power from the array or simply collect a $25,000-a-year rent payment on the 78,000-square-feet of space. The arrays would be sloped to allow snow to fall rather than collect.

Responding to a question by member Richard Rosa about the lifespan of the panels, Pacheco said they are designed to last 20 years, but usually remain online longer. “Even the panels at Beverly High School that were installed in (President) Jimmy Carter’s administration are really just failing now.”

Other questions centered on the loss of parking spaces—Pacheco said few would be lost—and the ability to snowplow around the poles holding up the array. Final designs may change depending on developer proposals. Member Sven A. Amirian, whose solar industry involvement played a role in the high school roof debates two years ago, agreed.

“This representation is just one, one way to approach it in these small strips,” Amirian said.

Two years ago, half the School Committee opposed a system more than twice as large to be erected on the high school roof by Marlborough-based MassAmerican Energy. The company then employed Amirian, but had submitted its plan before Amirian was elected to the School Committee.

Then-School Committee member Shaun P. Toohey led the charge against the project. He was supported by members Scott W. Wood Jr., who was concerned Amirian would profit from the project, and Maura L. Ryan-Ciardiello, who said she was concerned about student safety. Amirian recused himself from discussions.

School Committee members voted unanimously to allow the city to seek proposals to build the canopies with a condition proposed by Vice Chairman Paul A. Magliocchetti that members see the final specifications before it is advertised.