Lamont Presses to Simplify Solar Panel Installations at Schools – CT Examiner

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BRANFORD — Gov. Ned Lamont wants legislators to approve a bill making it easier for schools to install solar panels. 

The bill requires the state Public Utilities Regulatory Authority, or PURA, to create a program encouraging schools to install solar energy storage hardware and increase the reimbursement for school construction projects that include a solar component. 

At Monday news conference outside Mary R. Tisko Elementary School in Branford, Department of Energy and Environmental Protection Commissioner Katie Dykes noted that districts in Connecticut were purchasing electric buses, which can also be powered with solar energy. 

“We know that when we are deploying more solar and clean energy, we’re helping to provide a better future for the next generation, and that includes reducing air pollution that’s contributing to higher asthma rates for kids in our state,” Dykes said. “It’s also helping to reduce greenhouse gas emissions so that communities, especially our shoreline communities, will be better protected from the impacts of climate change.” 

Both Tisko and Mary T. Murphy Elementary have solar panels installed on their roofs that were activated this year. Superintendent Christopher Tranberg said the solar panels at Tisko were expected to save the district about $200,000 over the course of 20 years in electricity costs. 

Tisko’s panels have a capacity of about 120 kilowatts, according to a document from the Connecticut Green Bank, an organization created by the legislature to attract private investment for clean energy projects. Brian Garcia, president and CEO of the Connecticut Green Bank, estimated that the cost of installing the solar panels at Tisko at about $300,000. 

Additionally, Garcia said, the average cost per kilowatt of electricity on a school solar project is $0.083. Comparatively, residential supply rates through Eversource range from $0.138 to $0.173 kilowatts per hour. 

The Green Bank has installed 91 projects in schools across the state. 

Lamont said during the news conference that solar power reduces greenhouse emissions and mitigates the rising cost of electricity, particularly as energy usage is increasing. He noted that the state needed reliable sources of renewable energy to prevent spikes in electric bills. 

“We’re at the end of the supply chain, and solar is a big piece of what we want to do,” the governor said. “Sixty thousand kilowatts of solar right here across all of our schools, making an enormous difference, and we can do more. This is one of 300 schools that has solar power in this state.”

Lamont said that Connecticut has some of the highest electricity costs in the country and that solar power could save taxpayers money. 

John Prins, former chair of the Branford Board of Education, told CT Examiner that schools in a small town like Branford consume over 60% of the town’s energy. 

State Sen. Norm Needleman, D-Essex, said he also supported the bill. 

“We want to incentivize schools because it’s a lead by example thing — kids seeing this is important for them, understanding the future that we want to build for them,” Needleman said. 

But Republican legislators were not all on board with the idea. 

State Rep. Holly Cheeseman, R-East Lyme, told CT Examiner that she opposed a section in the bill that requires municipalities to conduct a feasibility study for solar energy on at least one school by Oct. 1. The study could cost a school district $100,000 to complete, adding strain at a time when school budgets are already tight because of the loss of federal coronavirus relief funds. 

“As if [the districts] don’t have enough on their plate,” Cheeseman said. “So come up with a program where you make this available, but you’re not telling them, ‘Oh, by the way, you have to do this in six months.’”

In a meeting of the Energy and Technology Committee on March 21, State Rep. William Buckbee, R-New Milford, said some of the schools were far away from any municipal buildings that could benefit from power sharing. He added that several schools also did not have the infrastructure to handle putting the solar energy back onto the grid. 

Needleman said it was a challenge to balance what he called the “very tangible cost impact” of purchasing and installing solar equipment with “intangible benefits” of collecting solar energy. 

“Any subsidized form of energy means somebody is paying the costs. Tax credits are great, but if you’re selling energy to the grid at a subsidized price, that means everybody else on the grid is going to pay for it,” he said.

But Needleman still backed the bill. Regarding the cost to municipalities, he called the measure a “work in progress.” 

Emilia Otte

Emilia Otte covers health and education for the Connecticut Examiner. In 2022 Otte was awarded “Rookie of the Year,” by the New England Newspaper & Press Association.

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