Utility sees solar power potential in PWHS roof

Officials like We Energies’ proposal to install 750 panels in exchange for payment if project doesn’t damage new school

SOLAR PANELS are being installed on the roofs of buildings in the New Berlin School District as part of the first We Energies Solar Now program. The utility has proposed a similar although much smaller project at Port Washington High School.
By 
BILL SCHANEN IV
Ozaukee Press staff

We Energies would pay the Port Washington-Saukville School District about $8,700 a year to install and maintain a 750 solar panel system on top of the new southern end of the high school, a utility official told School Board members Monday.

“You would basically be leasing us your rooftop,” Richard Stasik, director of state regulatory affairs for We Energies and a Port Washington resident, told members of the Buildings and Grounds Committee. 

“It’s a completely turnkey solution. The district doesn’t have to invest one penny in the installation of the facility.”

Board members, who were first told of the proposal earlier this month, have expressed interest in participating in We Energies’ Solar Now program, which was approved by the Public Service Commission in December.

Unlike traditional solar power programs in which participants pay the significant cost of installing and maintaining panels on their buildings and receive energy credits in return, Solar Now, also known as the Rent-a-Roof program, covers the cost of the equipment, installation and maintenance of solar systems. The owners of the building or land on which the solar panels are mounted receive rental payments but no credits for the energy, which goes on the grid.

“This (the Solar Now program) will reduce the amount of energy we have to purchase from the market, so it will lower the bills of all We Energies customers,” Stasik said. 

The estimated annual lease payment of $8,717, which would be paid in monthly installments of $726, would vary depending on the amount of electricity produced by the solar panels on top of Port High. Over the 20-year term of the lease, the utility would pay the School District an estimated $174,340.

“This is not exactly a windfall, but we’re always looking for new revenue streams,” Director of Business Services Jim Froemming told the board earlier this month.

The only concern expressed by school officials is whether the 750 solar panels could damage or decrease the life of the new high school roof.

“We take significant efforts not to damage the roofs we lease,” Stasik said.

The solar panels, which weigh about 70 pounds each, would rest on a protective barrier placed on top of the roof and be held down by concrete blocks.

“They’re like landscaping blocks on steroids,” Stasik said. “It’s a ballasted system. No holes would be put in the roof, not a one.”

The system is designed to withstand tornado-force winds and be discrete, Stasik said. The panels are pitched only 5 to 10 degrees.

“You won’t see them from the ground,” Stasik said.

The system would also include two inverters, which can be monitored via the internet. School officials said they foresee educational opportunities with students being able to monitor how much electricity the high school system is generating. 

“There’s an opportunity to build this into the curriculum,” Supt. Michael Weber said. “It’s real. It would be happening right here.”

The system would take about two weeks to install, Stasik said. The work would be done in spring if the board approves the project.

But before that decision is made, school officials want to hear from the company that installed the high school roof. 

Froemming said on Tuesday that he briefed Performance Roofing Systems on the proposed solar project.

“As you might guess, no roofer wants anything put on a roof,” he said. 

But, Froemming added, there’s no indication that the solar panels would reduce the expected life of the roof, which is 20 to 25 years. 

If, however, the roof needed to be repaired for reasons unrelated to the solar system, the district would have to pay to remove and reinstall any panels that need to be moved, Stasik said. 

Board approval of the project, which could come as early as next month, would make the School District one of the first to sign on to the Solar Now program.

The first Solar Now project is ongoing in the New Berlin School District, where more than 8,000 solar panels are being installed on top of three schools and in a solar field being created on vacant land in the district.

The project will produce more than 2 megawatts of power — as opposed to the 200 kilowatts generated by the much smaller project proposed for Port High — and We Energies will pay the district an estimated $94,500 a year, or $1.5 million over 20 years, to lease space for the panels.

The Village of Saukville also plans to participate in the program by leasing land it owns in the Dekora Woods Business Park to We Energies for a 2,000 solar panel project. According to a preliminary agreement, the utility would pay the village $21,356 per year for 30 years to lease the land.

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