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Ridgewood school district gives green light for solar panel installation Time:2017/01/19 14:51:46 Hit:788

Racks of solar panels will soon adorn the roofs of eight of the 10 schools across Ridgewood. The installation will offset the district's energy consumption with renewable energy by considerable degrees at no extra cost.


The district is on the verge of signing a 15-year contract with Verterra Renewable Energy Group, which will be responsible for the multi-million dollar costs and insurance for the solar panels. In return, the district will pay for the energy generated by the panels at a rate of 9 cents per kilowatt hour (kWh) - far less than the rates Ridgewood currently pays, which range between 13 and 17 cents per kWh.


The shift to solar energy will offset the district's current energy usage by about 14 percent, Verterra executives have estimated, and the savings to the district are likely to be anywhere between $40,000 and $70,000 per year.


Along with cost savings, the district will be able to demonstrate the benefits of using renewable energy, Superintendent Daniel Fishbein said.


"I think as citizens in a community and a greater community, we have an opportunity to make a statement and demonstrate to the community and to the students that we can use our facilities to make a difference," he said.


Verterra first approached the district last year and began to perform structural reviews of district roofs. The firm determined that only Willard School, Glen School and the Education Center were not immediately suitable for the solar panels. Glen School has a good flat surface with plenty of room for solar panels, but requires a new roof. The Education Center roof and much of the Willard roof is made of slate and are thus unsuitable for the panels. The new second story addition on Willard will have a roof not entirely suitable for panels, due to a slight pitch and a large amount of heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems.


The discussion furthered when Verterra president and Ridgewood resident Jim Wavle, along with vice president Keith Peltzman, visited a Board of Education meeting in February. There, they explained that each building's panels would supply electricity to that particular location, and noted that during the summer months, when some buildings may not be used at all, if the energy produced by the panels exceeded the energy consumed by the building, the electricity would go back into the grid, and the district would receive credits on its bill.


"It's like the utility meter runs backward," Wavle explained.


The business of renewable energy has been spurred by federal and state incentives. The federal government's American Recovery and Reinvestment Act includes grants that offer a subsidy of 30 percent of the costs of renewable energy projects, though the grant is set to expire by the end of 2011 and is available only to taxpayers. This, combined with the high overhead costs, make it less likely for non-profit municipalities or school districts to invest in solar energy on their own.


In many states, including New Jersey, "renewable portfolio standards" dictate that utility companies must produce a certain percentage of their electricity using renewable energy. Utilities can either produce this renewable energy on their own or partner with other energy companies to receive renewable energy credits, or RECs. In New Jersey, there are solar-specific RECs required in the renewable portfolio standards, Wavle said, which encourage solar energy development.


Other than solar energy, the district has already begun to make modest steps to reduce its consumption in other ways, most notably by including in its school improvement referendum motion-sensor lighting in all classrooms. The installations will begin shortly and will cost $186,100; savings from the installation should begin within seven years, Fishbein said.


In the meantime, Ridgewood High School's Students for Environmental Action have run a "Turn off the Lights" campaign, where club members move through the school to turn off lights every Friday afternoon.


It isn't yet clear when the solar panels will be installed. The contract is being reviewed by the school district's attorney; once it is signed, Verterra will finalize its engineering plans, and will then apply to the Village of Ridgewood for permits. Since access to the federal grant requires construction on renewable energy projects to begin by the end of 2011, the hope is to have the project begin, and even end, by the end of the year, Wavle said. Fishbein noted it might be completed in the summer months.


Wavle did not offer specifics, but said the solar panels in Ridgewood would cost several million dollars.


The new solar panels might also serve as an educational tool for students, Fishbein noted. A monitoring dashboard would be installed within the building, so students could learn to calculate how much energy the solar panels produce.


"There will be no kids on the roofs," he added.