No solar panels for school district - yet

| 08 Feb 2012 | 11:12

    WEST MILFORD — Thanks but no thanks. That's the consensus of the West Milford Board of Education to the Passaic County Improvement Authority (PCIA) and its solar energy initiative.

    School board President Dave Richards said the Budget and Finance Committee discussed the initiative and recommended against joining in on the project. He said the initiative failed twice when details of the project were discussed by the committee.

    “I can’t speak for the whole board, but the committee (at their last meeting) said we’re just going to say no thanks, sorry,” said Richards. “They (the PCIA) were hoping that the state would pass the solar credits but the state voted against it. I’m not against solar energy, I’m just against that project.”

    Foody takes issue In December, the PCIA came to the board to make its presentation on putting solar panels on district buildings. At the January workshop meeting, Trustee Jim Foody commented that the solar panel initiative option was cut by the Budget and Finance Committee. Foody said he took exception to the action since the entire board didn't vote on it. The committees make recommendations to the board but can't act for the board, he said.

    Barbara Francisco, the district's business administrator/secretary, explained that the school board works on a committee structure.

    “Things are brought to the committee, and then if the committee wishes to move it forward, then they can,” said Francisco.

    In the case of the solar initiative, the committee chose not to move forward.

    “Each time the information was brought to the committee, they chose not to pursue it,” she said.

    The presentation was for informational purposes, according to Francisco. And, she believed, the general consensus of the board members was that they didn't want to proceed with this project. The PCIA did not have any takers on their previous RFP and that was a major concern with the project, she added.

    “That doesn’t mean that the board can’t pursue their own solar projects, to try to find their own funding, or to fund it themselves depending on the size of the project,” Francisco said. “Right now we’re trying to address educational program for students.”

    The PCIA solar initiative The PCIA gave the presentation on its renewable energy-based shared services program to the board in December. The 15-year plan would have come with no up-front costs to the district and a promise of probable cost savings through the use of solar panels installed on school buildings and canopy panels over parking lot structures. Consultants estimated possible cost reductions from 15 cents per kilowatt to 9 cents per kilowatt were possible, but could not give a definitive savings estimate for the district. At the time, trustees voiced concerns about the district being able to utilize the program and if they would see a significant savings. There were also concerns for liability, maintenance, possible contract issues with developers and vandalism.

    Door isn't closed on solar This isn't necessarily the end for solar energy in the district. It just might not be the right time, according to Richards.

    "It all costs money," he said. "We're trying to do other things with the money that we need for the kids. The kids don't need solar panels. Right now there are other things that we need."

    Trustee John Aiello said he thought the presentation was premature, coming before the district had its energy audit complete.

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