Solar panel projects approved by Southington council

By Jesse Buchanan, Record-Journal staff

SOUTHINGTON — The Town Council approved two agreements for solar energy at Kennedy and DePaolo middle schools, the latest in efforts to install solar panels on most town buildings.

Although a planned solar array behind Hatton School has been delayed by a lawsuit from neighbors, solar farms have been installed at South End and Plantsville schools without major opposition.

On Monday, the council voted 7-1 to sign 20-year power purchase agreements with Greenskies, a Middletown energy company, for the solar panels at the middle schools.

Greenskies will own and operate the panels and sell power to the town at a reduced rate. The panels will be installed on the school roofs, which are new. Renovations at both schools were completed this year.

The panels are expected to provide about 80 percent of the schools’ power and reduce energy bills by 40 percent, according to Town Manager Garry Brumback.

Town Council Chairman Michael Riccio, a Republican, said there are more solar projects to come.
“Every town building will have them,” he said.

John Barry, a Democratic councilor, voted against signing the agreements. He questioned the anticipated savings since market prices can fluctuate over 20 years. The agreement includes prices the town will pay Greenskies for solar-generated power along with yearly increases.

“I think it’s really hard to determine the savings going out 20 years,” Barry said. “These are just estimates. (A 20-year agreement) really ties the hands of the town.”

Brumback said the price per kilowatt hour is only part of the overall energy cost. The town pays Eversource a transportation and distribution charge but avoids that cost when generating power on-site.

“Transportation and distribution are a major cost and that’s where you see savings,” Brumback said.

Another advantage of solar power is the environmental benefit of renewable energy, he said.

Solar panels have begun generating power at South End School while panels at Plantsville will be working soon, according to Brumback.

He said solar projects are dependent on securing state energy credits which defray capital costs for Greenskies. Without those credits the projects aren’t financially viable.

Brumback said the town is considering solar panels on the municipal center, the library, the former landfill and other locations.

On Monday, Republican Town Councilor Tom Lombardi recused himself from the discussion and vote on the Greenskies contracts.

Lombardi was the target of ethics complaints after he cast a vote concerning the Hatton solar array. While the Board of Ethics found him in violation, the council overturned the decision last month.

Lombardi recused himself from a 2014 vote to select Greenskies as the town’s solar vendor. He works as controller for Centerplan Development, one of a number of Centerplan companies owned by Robert Landino. Landino is also the board chairman for Greenskies.