Solar project would power Richmond school, save town up to $285K

RICHMOND — A plan for a solar installation at the Richmond Consolidated School is expected to provide nearly all the school's power needs — and save the town up to $285,000 over 20 years.

The Select Board and School Committee have given unanimous approval to the solar installation on the school's roof. The 172-kilowatt system should provide close to 100 percent of the school's electricity needs year-round, he said.

"I'm excited about this project; it's the kind I really enjoy," said Town Administrator Mark Pruhenski.

Following the Select Board's approval, the town signed a letter of intent with Solect Energy, based in Hopkinton.

The project will require approval by voters, potentially at a special town meeting early this spring, Pruhenski said. The solar panels would need to be installed by the end of June in order to qualify for tax credits.

Under the agreement, the town would not pay for the equipment or installation. Instead, the electricity supply would be purchased from Solect, which would bear the upfront costs, at a more favorable rate than the town's current supplier, the nonprofit Hampshire Power group purchasing co-op based in Northampton.

The town currently pays 11.2 cents per kilowatt hour through Hampshire to power all town-owned buildings, including the school, Town Hall, library and the highway garage. The solar installation would provide a locked-in rate of 9.8 cents per kilowatt hour for the next 20 years, Pruhenski pointed out.

"Assuming electrical costs continue to rise," he said, "this will save us an estimated $9,400 to $14,200 per year of electrical costs at the school — $188,000 to $285,000 over the 20-year contract with Solect."

The town has already switched to LED lighting for the school and all other town buildings, through a Massachusetts Green Communities grant, which has yielded $8,665 a year in electricity-cost savings for the town.

Pruhenski described the combined savings as "a huge benefit to the town. Just like any school we're trying hard to keep costs down, and this is one way; an enormous cost-saver."

The installation also will provide a renewable energy source for the community and a contribution to the school's curriculum, since an online link would enable students to track through live data how much energy is being produced at any given time, based on available sunlight.

"The educational benefits would be exciting," Pruhenski said. "Students would be able to see that we're producing our own renewable energy."

In summer, when the school's power needs are minimal, the electricity generated by the solar installation would go into the grid and would be returned when needed during the academic year though credits. The project would connect to Eversource, which serves the town.

Solect Energy is described as the state's leading commercial-scale installer of solar energy systems, according to the company's website.

Apart from providing "a great benefit to the school," Pruhenski said, "maybe it will be a model to use for other town-owned buildings."

Clarence Fanto can be reached at or 413-637-2551.


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