Commission selects vendor for school solar projects

By Pat Tomlinson
Laredo Morning Times

The Wilton Energy Commission has recommended that the town hire Middletown-based Greenskies Renewable Energies to install solar panels at Middlebrook and Miller-Driscoll schools.

WILTON — After an influx of proposals and months of deliberation, the Energy Commission has recommended that the town hire Middletown-based Greenskies Renewable Energies to install solar panels at Middlebrook and Miller-Driscoll schools.

The commission selected Greenskies out of nine different vendors that had put forth proposals for the two projects. Commissioners decided that not only did Greenskies offer the best rates at .019 kWh, but also an extensive, experienced staff headquartered nearby in Connecticut.

“They provide operations and maintenance, as well as the installation. They also had the most significant level of resources that they were going to put on-site, so there was an awful lot of reasons that we thought that they were pretty significant,” Thompson-Van said.

The commission also strongly considered nearby company Kingspan Energy, a large solar energy firm based out of Stamford. Greenskies held a slight edge on their competition, Thompson-Van said, since companies like Kingspan largely subcontracts their solar work out to other firms, whereas Greenskies would maintain responsibility for all aspects of the project.

“One of the most compelling aspects of this proposal is that it was a fully integrated offering,” said Mark Robbins of MHR Development, a clean energy consultant firm that the town hired to oversee the project. “Other than electrical and structural, it was all being installed in-house and they are effectively their own financial arm.”

Greenskies is no stranger to school campus work. In the past three years, the company has installed similar solar arrays at schools throughout the state, including both public high schools in Fairfield, two schools in Clinton, and one in Southington. The company also had a hand in constructing a 5-megawatt solar energy installation on a 43-acre tract of land in East Lyme, one of the state’s largest solar installations to date.

The company’s reputation is such that “Solar Power World,” a magazine and website that reports on the emerging solar industry, named Greenskies one of the top 10 solar power developers in the U.S. in 2015.

“We wanted somebody that had the footprint here in the state of Connecticut that would be here to love us as we went forward,” commission co-chair Debra Thompson-Van said.

Based on Greenskies proposal, Thompson-Van estimates that the town can save up to as much as 80 percent when compared to what the town paid between their TransCanada energy agreement and a shipping fee charged by Eversource.

Based on these rates, Thompson-Van estimates that the town can save an additional $600,000 or $700,000 on top of earlier projections, which showed savings of around $1.1 million over the panels’ lifetimes. In the first year alone, Thompson-Van calculates that the town could save up to $44,000, excluding taxes and demand charges.

With energy agreement rates significantly lower than the .078 kWh accounted for in original estimates over the summer, the Energy Commission felt vindicated in recommending the PPA to the selectmen over the outright purchase agreement.

“If we did this ourselves, we would have to hire all these people with the skills we don’t have, we would have to hire people to do remote monitoring, which the industry has figured out how to do well,” said Thompson-Van.

Following the successful acquisition of ZRECS for the two schools last year, the commission plans to pursue a similar credit to install solar panels at Wilton High School as well.

The commission estimates that, if the town were to install solar at Wilton High, the town could save an additional $1.1 million in savings, on top of the projected savings of $1.7 million between Middlebrook and Miller-Driscoll.

“In a time where everything is costing more, here’s an opportunity to take 25 percent of the energy that’s used by those schools, do it in a renewable fashion that’s clean energy and save a ton of money,” Thompson-Van said.

The town will hold a public hearing on the solar projects at Miller-Driscoll and Middlebrook schools on April 17, in the hopes of having the planning process of the project wrapped up by the end of May so that the panel installation can commence once schools close on June 18 and end before they start back up at the end of August.

After the April 17 hearing, the selectmen will deliberate on whether or not to hire Greenskies.

First Selectman Lynne Vanderslice said she hopes residents will attend the public hearing, because their input is key to the process.

“This is a complex process, so it’s really important that residents come out and voice their opinions on these projects,” she said.