Photovoltaic solar panels on the roof of the new elementary school have been part of the building plans since the beginning. Now National Grid has brought those plans to a dead stop. While not rejecting outright an application to connect the panels to its network, National Grid demanded a $9,700 impact study and also predicted the connection might be delayed for several years, until the completion of upgrades at its Ayer substation.
â€śThis kills the project,â€ť David Fay told the School Building Committee at its Sept. 17 meeting. Fay, who is a member of both the building committee and the Harvard Energy Advisory Committee, has put in months of effort with Solect Energy of Hopkinton, the company that would have installed, maintained, and owned the solar panels on the school roof.
In its response to Solectâ€™s application, National Grid wrote its net metering program â€śis closed to new applicants at this time.â€ť The company also stated this area of the state is â€śhighly saturatedâ€ť as far as solar energy goes.
Fay said he and Solect are asking state representatives for help in working with National Grid, but he did not have much hope they could change the outcome.
Last April, Fay reported on the proposed solar installation to the Select Board, explaining the panels would provide about 70% of the electricity needed by the elementary school, while saving the town an estimated $353,000 over the 20-year life of the contract with Solect. The Select Board unanimously approved the project. Town Administrator Tim Bragan said the only remaining step was a town meeting vote, as the agreement required leasing town propertyâ€”the school roofâ€”to Solect Energy.
No one reckoned with National Grid. Solect reported National Grid said it had significant questions about whether the Ayer substation could handle the power. An impact study to answer those questions, National Grid said, would cost Solect $9,700 up front. Together with the likelihood of a multiyear delay in connecting to the substation, National Gridâ€™s conditions made the Harvard project economically infeasible for Solect.
â€śIâ€™m very disappointed,â€ť Fay said. â€śI try not to show it. But I sure wish we could have put panels on the building.â€ť
Construction plans for the new elementary school called for the building to be â€śsolar ready.â€ť Those plans never included the solar panels themselves, because the intent was always to use grant money or another financial arrangement, such as the leasing agreement with Solect Energy, to install the panels. For Harvard to buy and install its own solar panels would cost an estimated $860,000, Fay told the Select Board last spring. While the building will still be solar ready when it is complete, no one knows what the state regulations and power company policies about solar power will be several years from now.