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Concentration of CO2 in the Atmosphere

Profile School Is Now 100% Solar-Powered

An aerial view of the 344kW solar array at The Profile School in Bethlehem, NH which provides 100% of the school’s electrical needs. (Photo: Jack Bingham of Barrington Power).

George Harvey

We got word in December that the solar array for the Profile Jr.-Sr. High School in Bethlehem, NH had been completed and put into commission, providing power for the school. The array, with a capacity of 344kW, was sized to provide 100% of the school’s current electricity demand on an annual basis.

Getting to this point was clearly not a trivial task. It has taken the work of a number of people and organizations over the course of several years. Initial work by the Ammonoosuc Regional Energy Team began in early 2015. Another group that provided guidance was Bethlehem Energy Commission. Melissa Elander, the North Country Energy Specialist of Clean Energy NH provided her assistance. Profile School’s Principal, Kerry Sheehan, and Board Char Kim Koprowski were both heavily involved.

There were certain preliminary actions that were undertaken that facilitated progress. Among these was work that was done by Paul Lehmann, the school’s facility manager, who is now retired. He saw to it that the demand for electricity was reduced by switching to LED lights and isolating the computer room heating, ventilation, and air conditioning system, so it could be on a different thermostat than the rest of the school. These actions reflect good practice in general, and they produced a noticeable effect by reducing the school’s demand for electricity. They were particularly important for progress on the solar array, however, because as they reduced demand for electricity, they also reduced the size that was needed for the system.

The discussions about a solar array, sustainable energy, and efficiency improvements began in early 2015. By the summer of 2019, enough progress had been made for the school board and administration to begin a formal fact-finding mission. This included having three different solar companies visit the site to submit their proposals about the proposed solar system and ways to finance it.

Progress on the project soon sped up. In December of 2019, the School Board approved the bid from Barrington Power unanimously. With that, the issue became an article at the next Annual Meeting.

A decision on financing the array also had to be made. Discussions focused on two different ways to finance the project. One of these was for the school itself to get financing for the system, own it, and operate it. The advantage for this approach is lower costs in the long run, but the disadvantage was that there would be a substantial initial investment.

A second approach relates to the fact that non-profits including schools and municipalities cannot take advantage of the 26% federal tax credit available for solar installations. But a for-profit organization can finance and own the array and sell the school the electricity it produces, through a Power Purchase Agreement (PPA) and by making use of the solar tax credits can sell energy to the school at a reduced rate. There is no up-front cost at all to the school, but the school can benefit from an immediate reduction in the cost of electricity. Also, maintenance is not a concern for the school if the array is owned and operated by an investor. This second approach to financing was chosen by the Profile School.

The project was developed by Jack Bingham of Barrington Power and Ted Vansant of New England Commercial Solar Services. Together, they assembled the team of contractors who did the groundwork. Horizons Engineering did the civil engineering, which included setting boundaries and fitting the system properly to avoid any impact on wetlands.

Every post supporting the array’s panels had to be located precisely to do this job. Describing the work, Bingham emphasized the importance of precision required, saying “When I say precise, I mean precise. Everything had to be placed perfectly.” The work of installing the posts, which in this case are helical piles looking very much like giant wood screws, was done by AP Alternatives. And the contractor who installed all the electric components was Ayer Electric (see their ad on page 11).

In addition to general project development, Barrington Power undertook to finance the system. The Bethlehem Select Board wrote a letter of support for the grant from the USDA Rural Development program for 10% of the cost. The select board was also involved in negotiating a tax rate for the land on which the solar array is constructed. The financing and grant worked to reduce the cost of energy purchased by the school through the PPA.

Profile School’s solar array has a lot of advantages for the school. One is that it can be used to teach about energy. But also, it makes costs stable with a system that is flexible and can be scaled as demands change. And, of course, it reduces pollution.

Barrington Power’s website is barringtonpower.com. New England Commercial Solar Services’s website is necsolarservices.com.

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