BYFIELD — Triton Regional School District is considering of one of the largest-ever solar power initiatives in the state to help power its high school and middle school under a unique agreement in which it would pay no money up front.
Business Administrator Brian Forget brought a proposal to the School Committee last week that could result in 2,600 solar panels being installed on the rooftops of the schools by the time the snow falls through a power purchase agreement with a company out of Colorado.
"We don't pay for (the panels) up front," Forget said, regarding the proposed deal with EyeOn Energy, Ltd. "It's all paid for by EyeOn."
Through the purchase agreement with that company, which is being brokered by local consultant Jeff Wootan of Sunbeam, LLC, Forget said Triton is looking at the deal as a way to plan for the school's future energy needs without having to come up with $4 million up front. With the solar panels and a wind turbine, Triton officials believe the school's energy requirements could be entirely self-sustainable.
While Triton first discussed future plans to go green several months ago, its plan accelerated last week when Forget was pitched an energy deal being offered through EyeOn. Triton would pay 14 cents per kilowatt the first year, escalating 4 percent per year thereafter.
But if the district is going to get on board, it must act fast. Forget was told it's a great deal, but it might disappear if the panels aren't purchased within 5 to 10 business days.
Although there were details in the proposed contract Forget thought needed some work, he asked the School Committee to consider approving the contract in time to purchase at that rate, or at least agree to meet again before its next scheduled meeting to reach a decision on the matter.
While the board wanted a legal review of the contract prior to accepting it, they were generally supportive of acting quickly in the interest of going green for a good price. They scheduled a special 11:30 a.m. meeting on Aug. 25 in order to expedite their decision, which Board members felt would give counsel some time to review public procurement and laws specific to the Green Communities Act.
Triton could also be challenged to adhere to a public bidding process under state guidelines, which would make acting on this time-sensitive initiative all but impossible. The state mandated through the Green Communities Act that communities and publicly funded entities must adhere to a strict set of guidelines prior to entering into energy savings contracts. Among the mandates laid out in the act is that the agency must put forth a request for qualifications, receive multiple bids on the project and allow the public to be part of the process.
According to Forget, if Triton moves forward with EyeOn on this purchase power agreement, the Colorado company would receive a sizeable sum in grants, tax credits and benefits Triton would otherwise receive from the State and Federal Government. Additionally, since the school's electric bill would go down by about 25 percent commensurate with the amount of energy created by the panels, the school would agree to purchase that generated power from EyeOn for a period of 7 to 20 years. After that, according to Forget, the school can either purchase the panels or keep on buying back the power from EyeOn.
"After seven years we can buy the equipment at the fair-market value," said Forget. "We don't get tax credits, but we get the benefits of the electricity free of charge."
If approved, "it would be the biggest system installed in Massachusetts," said Forget, its 2600 individual solar panels carrying 25 percent of the school's energy load.
Triton is simultaneously working with the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative on erecting a 50-meter meteorological tower on Triton's campus meant to study wind speeds and the feasibility of harnessing wind power as an alternative campus power source. It's Triton's admittedly lofty goal to install a 1.5 megawatt wind turbine on site that will one day supply 75 percent of its energy needs.
"That turbine would produce 75 percent of the load, and we'd be the first school in the country that would be completely self sufficient," said Forget.