Celebrate Earth Day by Saving Solar at Belmont’s New 7-12 School!

This Earth Day, Belmont’s High School Building Committee will be considering a proposal to remove solar from plans for the new 7-12 school as a cost saving measure. Don’t let that happen! The meeting is tonight (Monday) at 5PM in the 3rd Floor Art Gallery at the Homer Municipal Building.  See you there!

If you can’t make it, email your support for rooftop solar to Bill Lovallo, Patricia Brusch and John Phelan at bhs-bc@belmont-ma.gov. Copy  the Selectmen and School Committee while you’re at it: selectmen@belmont-ma.gov and sc@belmont.k12.ma.us.  

It’s Monday, April 22nd. Happy Earth Day! This is our 49th Earth Day!

As in past years, folks will be recognizing the holiday by getting outside to enjoy nature, or clean up the environment by reclaiming some of the tons of poisonous plastic that is polluting our land, rivers and oceans.

If you’re working, it might be tough to observe the day and do your job. But here in Belmont the stars have aligned to give you an opportunity to do a MAJOR favor for the earth (and Belmont taxpayers) today by mobilizing to save a planned solar array at Belmont’s massive, new 7-12 school.

What’s going on?

Ditch solar at the new 7-12 school? What? Where?! Yes, you heard that right. It could happen.

What’s going on? The term is “value engineering” – and its basically public works speak for “cutting costs to keep a project on budget.” Right now, estimates for the construction of the new 7-12 school have the District about $30 estimated shortfall between what it would reasonably cost to build the facility and what the Town’s construction budget provides to build it. That’s not so unusual in a project of this size (~$300 million). To address the shortfall, a sub group of the Belmont High School Building Committee – Bill Lovallo, Patricia Brusch and John Phelan – has been looking for savings. Tonight, they’ll present their suggestions to the full High School Building Committee for consideration and discussion. (Meeting agenda is here.)

Rooftop Solar: net savings of ~$1 million to the Town

That’s where you come in. The word on the street is that they’ve come up with a number of options to constrain costs including the removal of the planned 1.32m kWh rooftop solar array. This, even though rooftop solar would be cashflow positive right out of the gate: generating $148,000 in energy savings in year 1 of operation, against $130,000 in debt service – or $18,000 in net savings for Belmont Taxpayers.

rooftop solar array

The planned rooftop photovoltaic solar installation will realize $18,000 in net savings for the town in year 1, rising to $25,000 in savings by year 8.

The benefit of rooftop solar grows to more than $25,000 a year in net savings to taxpayers by year 8 of operation and – over the 30 year period during which Belmont will be paying off the building – the rooftop solar array will generate close to $1 million for taxpayers: $998,298, according to this estimate.

Zero Net Energy Designation – and $5m in operating savings – at risk

But wait, there’s more! Belmont’s leadership, including the Board of Selectmen, the Energy Committee and the School Committee all voted unanimously to support Zero Net Energy for the new 7-12 school. Rooftop solar is just one part of the Zero Net Energy plan for the school (geothermal is a big part of the mix). But rooftop solar is a critical element. Getting rid of rooftop solar would sink the Belmont 7-12 schools chances of achieving a ZNE Class D designation. That, in turn, would qualify the town for an additional ~ $1 million in savings over the life of Belmont’s loan (30 years). All told, if ZNE isn’t achieved, the town and school lose $5M in operating savings. You can see a breakout of these savings in this report by Belmont residents David Beavers, Jacob Knowles and Jonathan Abe.

A troubling history with municipal solar

Looking at those numbers, you might be saying to yourself “no way this will happen.” Don’t be so sure. Belmont has a troubling history of passing over solar on municipal buildings for all the wrong reasons (NIMBY, short sighted cost calculations, etc.) Notably: a solar array was planned for the new Wellington Elementary a decade ago, but was “value engineered” out of that design. Additionally, an array has been planned for the roof of the Chenery Middle School for years – at no cost to taxpayers – but has been mysteriously held up by the School Administration. Again: Belmont taxpayers foot the bill for higher energy and operational costs as a result.

But this is 2019 not 2009 – let alone 1999. The time for intransigence and 20th century approaches to 21st century problems has passed. These days, being smart about the planet is also a good way to be smart about your budget and your bottom line. That’s why Belmont needs to show up tonight and voice its support for the planned rooftop solar array at the new 7-12 school. I hope to see you there.

If you can’t make it…

But…if you can’t make it, there is still lots you can do. Start by emailing your support for rooftop solar to Bill Lovallo, Patricia Brusch and John Phelan at bhs-bc@belmont-ma.gov. Let them know that rooftop solar and ZNE are not “nice to haves” for the new school, but critical elements of a sustainable design. Remind them that keeping solar and achieving Zero Net Energy will save Belmont taxpayers millions of dollars over the next 30 years and beyond and that rooftop solar has been shown to be cash flow positive from day one. That is why the Board of Selectmen, Energy Committee, and the School Committee all voted unanimously to support Zero Net Energy for the new high school. Go ahead and copy  the Selectmen and School Committee while you’re at it: selectmen@belmont-ma.gov and sc@belmont.k12.ma.us.

See you there!