Sutton school roof ready for greening
BY JOSH FARNSWORTH
Nearly a thousand solar panels are set to make sunny days in Massachusetts more cost effective for Sutton taxpayers.
Installers have been hard at work on the roof above the classrooms of Sutton Elementary School and the Simonian Center for Early Learning.
Town Administrator Jim Smith said conservative estimates may have Sutton saving around $30,000 on energy costs per year.
“Our goal is to become a green community,” he said. “The school is looking forward to it as well as the town. The project has been running smoothly so far.”
The roof has come a long way in two years.
Classrooms below the aged roof leaked constantly, destroying school materials and requiring dozens of unsightly buckets to catch the drips. Residents voted in 2009 to replace the roof and last spring approved the appropriation of $590,000 for the solar apparatus.
Workers have installed a racking system on several sections, along with the electrical system. The panels have started to be installed, as well. The electrical system utilizes piping that runs off the side of the building instead of puncturing holes in the new roof – a squeamish thought for those who have endured water damage.
The new solar roof is weighed down by about 6,200 cinderblocks, but those teaching and learning below say the minimal pitter-patter of workers installing the apparatus is nothing compared to what the school system and town is gaining.
“They work around our schedule and will be able to show students and the town how we are reducing our carbon footprint,” said Simonian Center principal Lauren Dubois. “Kids today are very aware of recycling. This is the world they are growing up in today. I think teachers are looking forward to having the panels as something to view and teach about. Each grade level will take away something different.
“It is unbelievable how far we have come when our goal was to eliminate the buckets,” she added. “To think we may have a model roof, is just phenomenal.”
Smith praised the work of Ostrow Electric, the company in charge of installation. He said Ostrow project overseer Dave Martinelli has worked diligently since the equipment arrived Aug. 12 to set up the complex 200-kilowatt system of brackets and panels. The work has involved carrying all the cinderblocks to the roof by hand.
The system also has an educational component – a monitoring system will broadcast, most likely over the Internet, how much energy the roof is generating to see the savings in action.
“The panels will also be durable in the winter,” said Martinelli. “Snow will melt right off and they are built to withstand three-quarter-inch sized hail and winds at 60 miles per hour.”
In addition to the green 21st century initiative, which Smith said the town and board of selectmen are striving to attain in their goals this year, Sutton is venturing into an unused market. Smith is soliciting bids for solar renewable energy credits through a new program designed by the state.
The Massachusetts Department of Energy Resources requires electric providers/ suppliers serving retail customers to meet solar renewable requirements through obtaining SRECs. Sutton’s school roof apparatus will accrue these credits, which the town can sell up front or on an annual basis.
Smith said securing bids is tricky since Sutton is among the first towns to do so, and there are no strong regulations set in stone for handling the process. Regardless, he said the energy credits will help the town’s bottom line.
If it all continues smoothly, Smith said, adding similar panels to the new middle/high school will be a design topic of interest.
“The design and development of the school can handle up to a 500-kilowatt system,” said Smith, though a system that complex would probably not be used. “We are excited for what that could mean and for our progress as a green community.”