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Plainfield Finalizing Plans for Solar Array at Elementary School

Valley News Correspondent
Published: 11/17/2016 10:59:50 PM
Modified: 11/18/2016 3:27:49 PM

Plainfield  — A 100-kilowatt solar array that would be located in a field next to the Plainfield Elementary School parking lot could be in operation next summer, residents were told at a hearing on the proposal Thursday night.

The School Board said it is finalizing a contract with Norwich Technologies, of White River Junction, to lease the land for construction of the array with 432 solar modules. Once the contract is in place, Norwich Technologies would begin the permitting process, which could take about two months and then, depending on the weather, begin construction in late winter or early spring. The modules are pre-assembled, which allows for faster on-site installation.

The array would produce 167,400 kilowatt hours per year and produce enough power to meet the needs of the school, said Joel Stettenhiem, co-founder of Norwich Technologies.

In his presentation during the meeting, Stettenhiem stressed not only the financial advantages of solar power but the environmental and educational ones. The company will provide online data and kiosks on-site that teachers can use for instruction, he said.

“Schools have been receptive to taking advantage of educational opportunities,” said Stettenhiem, referring to Kimball Union Academy, Thetford Elementary School and Cardigan Mountain where Norwich Technologies has put up solar arrays.

Under the pending agreement, the school district is guaranteed a savings of 5 percent over the market rate for energy, which translates into $1,400 a year on the $28,000 annual electric bill for the school, the School Board said.

Stettenhiem said costs have come down significantly for solar power and combined with the environmental benefits of reducing reliance on fossil fuels, it is a “win, win” proposition.

“It is a way to help the local economy and because the power is produced locally, you can be more self-reliant,” Stettenhiem said.

About 15 members of the public attended the hearing and though no one spoke strongly against the project, there were several questions about the process and the location.

Town Administrator Steve Halleran asked if it could be sited in the same location as one being planned next to the town’s wastewater treatment plant to avoid losing the field. In response, Terry Donoghue, project manager with Norwich Technologies, said to obtain the benefits of net metering, arrays cannot exceed 100 kilowatts on one meter and combining both arrays would exceed that standard. Placing it over the parking lot was also suggested but Stettenhiem said that would require a different orientation and would not allow for full advantage of the sun.

The School Board was authorized by voters at the annual school meeting in 2015 to proceed with entering into an agreement so long as it was cost neutral. Board member Chris Forman told residents that while the district won’t make a lot of money, it will not lose any.

The school has no upfront costs and the only operational costs will be the electricity, unless the district opts to buy the array at some point. The option exists beginning in year seven.

Correction

The annual electricity costs for the Plainfield Elementary School are $28,000. An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated the amount of the school's power bill.




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