Solar systems at Joel and Eliot schools in Clinton expected to bring down bills

Published November 11, 2015
By Stan Fisher, New Haven Register

CLINTON - When the sun comes up, the electric bill goes down for two of the town’s schools, thanks to large-scale photovoltaic solar systems installed this fall at Joel and Eliot schools.

Installed and owned by Greenskies Renewable Energy LLC of Middletown at no cost to the town, each of the 131.76-kilowatt systems consists of 432 solar panels and is capable of producing more than 150,000 kilowatts of power annually, said Paul Gebauer, chairman of the town’s solar energy committee.

The installation should save the town $15,000-18,000 annually in energy costs at each school, said Superintendent of School Jack Cross. The annual electric bill for the town’s four schools can range from $278,000 to 458,000, Cross said, “and we’ve done a bunch of things to save money.”

The savings to be realized at Joel and Eliot are based on projections, “what (electricity) they ultimately will produce. We’re reducing that amount of electricity we have to purchase. That’s pretty significant.”

Gebauer said the installations were undertaken through the zero emission renewable energy credit programs offered by the state’s utilities, in which companies such as Greenskies can bid for the right to do energy-saving projects under a 15-year contract with the utilities.

In Clinton’s case, Greenskies installed the systems at no cost to the town — while Greenskies’ officials did not respond to inquiries, Gebauer estimates the system cost at $500,000 — and sells the energy they produce to the town at a rate significantly lower than retail utility charges.

The company’s website says it specializes in solar financing, system design, and project implementation, and lists systems installed on institutions and businesses across the country. This summer, according to the company, it closed on a $165 million agreement to finance 127 solar projects from Maine to California, among other endeavors.

Cross and Gebauer said the installations also bring an educational component to the schools, with “dashboards” in each school displaying energy consumption and savings, and the tons of carbon taken out of the atmosphere by the systems. “They bring a greater awareness of the importance of energy conservation to the students,” said Gebauer, whose daughter, Tessa, a second-grader at Joel, cut the ribbon for the start of the system at her school.

Gebauer credited First Selectman William Fritz with making the project possible: “It was his support and encouragement that made it possible. He’s been really supportive of the energy committee, and he’s a ‘git-’er done’ kind of guy.”

Next on the energy committee’s to-do list is a megawatt photovoltaic installation envisioned for a five-acre portion of the town’s old landfill that would produce enough energy to supply the town’s municipal buildings. Greenskies has done similar installation on old landfills in other communities.

Fritz said the town also plans to include a photovoltaic system at the town’s new high school, now under construction on Route 81. Of the Eliot and Joel systems, “It was exciting” to see them installed. Gebauer, he said, “has the drive and enthusiasm” to push these projects forward.

The town received two awards from the state’s “Energize Connecticut” program in recognition of the solar installations, as did neighboring Killingworth, which with Haddam “blew away every other town in Connecticut with an incredibly successful solarize program,” said First Selectwoman Catherine Iino.