Algonquin goes solar and continues other energy conservation projects

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By Liz Nolan, Contributing Writer

Solar panels being installed on the roof of ARHS
Photo/submitted

Northborough-Southborough – After five years of research, exploration and a feasibility study, solar panel installation at Algonquin Regional High School (ARHS) began in late August and was estimated to be completed in mid-November. This is the first solar project for the Northborough Southborough Public Schools District.

District Director of Operations Keith Lavoie said the financial savings and the reduction in the carbon footprint are positive outcomes of the project for the District.

“This is not eliminating an electric bill,” said Lavoie. “It will not take care of all the electricity needs of the building, but will allow some savings over the course of the year to reinvest back into the building.”

It is estimated that the system will generate about 12 percent of ARHS’s electrical energy needs and will save the District approximately 5-8 percent of its electrical costs annually.

Lavoie credits ARHS Director of Facilities Mike Gorman for his dedication to the project.

“He did a lot of work to keep this project moving from infancy five years ago to bringing it to fruition now,” he said. “He saw the benefits and kept it moving forward.”

The solar project is being completed by Hopkinton based Solect Energy, which has been working with many municipalities. They are responsible for the installation, as well as the interconnecting, monitoring and maintaining of the system. Lavoie and Gorman both said the company has been a great partner and the project has presented no disruption to students. 

Gorman anticipates recognizing the energy savings by May 2021, due to the processing of paperwork with National Grid, which can take up to four months after the installation is completed.

An educational component has been embedded in the agreement for student learning opportunities. A representative from the company will share information with students, allow them to see the solar panels and how the data is examined. 

Gorman said it can touch upon the science and math curriculum, including discussions about budgets, savings, technology and the environmental impact. 

The goal is to give students the opportunity to monitor all the live information generated from the panels.

The solar project at ARHS is a pilot, but doing the same in the future at other Northborough or Southborough schools will be explored as part of the goal to have each school run as efficiently as possible. 

“Projects don’t end,” said Lavoie. “We have to keep this type of thinking going forward so that we can continue to improve and reinvest in our schools. It’s so critical to do that.”

Gorman initiated an energy conservation program at the school in 2008. The focus since has been on no cost saving opportunities. 

“Just by educating staff and starting our efforts, we got the ARHS community behind our energy initiative,” he said. “The first year, by just turning off equipment that was not needed and turning things off over the weekends and holiday breaks, we saved an astounding $39,000.”

Gorman continues to evaluate and access the whole school for ways to reduce the operating budget, often securing incentives through National Grid or applying for grant funds.

Updated parking lot lights and boilers, more efficient lighting in common areas and weatherizing doors and windows of the main entrances all had significant saving impacts over the years.

Gorman’s goal is to continue to move forward with a multi-phased LED lighting project, which is underway. He said LED costs have decreased over the years and are typically trouble free for a good 10 years. The project will bring a reduction of the operation budget while cutting the carbon footprint and creating a better learning environment. 

“With common sense, we are trying to get taxpayers’ dollars to go as far as possible,” Gorman said. “The more we do conserving and look for innovative things, we are able to keep budgets in line.”