BRIGHT IDEA: Marblehead schools eyed again for solar power

The Marblehead Municipal Light Department will be reaching out to the town’s public schools before Thanksgiving to discuss new plans to install solar panels (photovoltaic arrays) with batteries at local schools.

A look at potential solar panel installation in Marblehead schools, contributing about 2.3% of the 2022 energy supply with solar arrays and batteries.

At a recent meeting, MMLD General Manager Joseph Kowalik said the Light Commission is evaluating solar PV arrays for six schools, and on-site batteries at four of those buildings. He said adding batteries (which would be on school grounds, but not in school buildings) will mean that the stored energy can go straight back into the schools and avoid transmission costs.

“We have been involved in high-level discussions with the Light Department in terms of placing solar panels at the high school when a new roof is installed,” Acting Superintendent Michelle Cresta told the Current. “I have not been involved in discussions involving other school locations, but this is a topic that is anticipated to be reviewed this coming year.”

Commission members discussed strategies for engaging the School Committee and the Select Board, with the goal of providing a coherent narrative on the benefits and financing options.

Plans call for installing solar at Brown Elementary School first, because it has a new roof that was just constructed.

“We want to wait at least one year before installing solar panels to ensure the new roof does not leak,” said Kowalik. “This will allow time for any leaks to be addressed under warranty, without solar panels and related equipment interfering. Once the roof’s integrity is proven over a season, we can proceed with confidence installing solar, knowing any future leaks are not due to faulty construction.”

The six schools identified for solar panels —  Brown, Marblehead High School, Village School, Veterans Middle School, Glover and Marblehead Charter — could generate over 2.3% of the Light Department’s total energy supply. Kowalik said this fits with the commission’s goal of evolving the energy portfolio with projects of varying size and impact.

Commission members asked about involving residents in community solar or co-funding opportunities to improve financing terms. Kowalik said they need to define potential benefits for residents but are open to community engagement.
The commission plans to summarize all solar options under consideration for the schools and develop a timeline for engaging officials. The goal is to present to the school committee before Thanksgiving.

Danvers is reportedly taking steps to increase its use of solar energy. Over the next six months, solar panels will be installed on the roofs of three schools — Danvers High, Highlands Elementary and Smith Elementary. The town has entered into an agreement with Select Energy, which will own and operate the panels for 20 years.

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