If all goes to plan, student arriving for the first day of school this September will be greeted with solar panels layered on Belmont schools roofs, providing the town with environmentally-positive energy and the school department with millions of dollars in savings over the next decade.
And the beauty of the project concocted by the Belmont Solar Initiative is it would not cost Belmont a penny in capital while allowing the schools to keep approximately $2.6 million.
The plan to generate nearly a million-and-a-half kilowatt hour of energy annually from the town's six schools – the High School, Chenery Middle School and the four elementary schools – was presented to the Belmont School Committee Tuesday night, Jan. 24, by longtime environmental campaigner and Belmont Energy Committee co-chairman Roger Colton and Sustainable Belmont Chairman John Kolterman, both who head the Belmont Solar Initiative.
The plan to install solar photovoltaic system on school and other town buildings has been advocated since the release two years ago of the Belmont Climate Action Plan when Town Meeting endorsed reducing the town's carbon footprint by 80 percent by 2050.
"What we are proposing is not new concept," said Colton. "We are taking one of the recommendations and move it to implementation."
Under the plan, the six schools system would cut carbon dioxide by 1.3 million pounds. That would be like reducing vehicle trips in New England by 1.7 million miles.
While not calling the plan a total solution to cutting carbon and other chemicals in Belmont, Colton said he'd take the level of reduction "any day."
The plan presented Tuesday would involve the school department entering into a power purchase agreement. Rather than buying panels and run the system itself, the schools would "host" the system and purchase the electricity from the panels' owner and or operator.
Colton said being the system's host is made affordable for the panels owner by a series of federal and state solar power incentives including tax credits, a large first-year depreciation, state tax exemptions and a form of renewable energy certificate known as Solar Renewable Energy Certificates, that can be sold and traded or bartered on a market.
The schools would see direct cost savings with the reduction of electrical expenses from the power generated on-site at the full retail rate to the Belmont Municipal Light Department.
In addition, any "extra" energy produced from the system will be "returned" to the Light Department at the wholesale generation rate, reducing school department expenses further.
"This could be oodles of money," said Colton of the "this stream of revenue."
$2.6 million in a decade
While his initial calculations are $2.6 million over 10 years, "we have seen (similar environmental systems) become more valuable over time and I suspect that is what will happen here," said Colton.
"We are asking (the School Committee) to pursue a project that is environmentally and financially friendly," said Colton.
The School Committee will not need to look far to find someone experienced in converting roof tops to energy power plants. Interim Belmont School Superintendent Thomas Kingston oversaw the installation of solar power systems on Chelsea schools when he headed that school system earlier this decade.
"It was a success in Chelsea," said Kingston. While the system did not produce a substantial savings upfront, over time "the system did generate a significant amount to the bottom line," he said.
Furthermore, the system will have an educational component as students will be able to view instruments that show the power produced and consumed in kiosks in a central location as well as working panels located in parking lots; a concept that Kingston said was quite successful in Chelsea.
The Solar Initiative was not asking the School Committee to approve the plan Tuesday but only to approve the creation of a nine-member Belmont Solar Oversight Committee that will review the project and set up a timeline for its installation.
Under his ambitious time line, Colton foresees approval from the School Committee and the Belmont Board of Selectmen in the next few weeks to OK the Oversight group which will release a RFP (request for proposal) to interested firms willing to "host" the system.
He sees responses to the proposal by mid-May and a contract signed a month later with construction and installation from July to October of this year.
But Colton said if all goes well and "we all work hard," schools will have the panels up "before the kids are back to school."
"That would be extraordinarily exciting," said Colton.