The Board of Selectmen on Wednesday approved agreements that call for solar panels to be installed on or near town buildings and for a power "microgrid" to be created to better ensure emergency responders have electricity, heat and communications in the event of a disaster.
The solar panels would be installed on the roofs of the town Department of Public Works' garage on Richard White Way, the Fairfield Senior Center on Mona Terrace, the 70 Sanford St. building that the town leases to the Fairfield Theatre Company, and Fire Station No. 1 on Reef Road. Solar panels would be installed next to the Parks and Recreation Department, instead of on the roof, because equipment on the adjacent Metro-North Railroad tracks interferes with direct sunlight hitting the roof, said Ed Boman, the DPW's assistant director.
The selectmen postponed a decision Wednesday on whether to install solar panels above the Fairfield Railroad Station's northerly parking lot, which would be used to provide power to Tomlinson Middle School across Unquowa Road, because the agreement was not yet available.
Boman said the 20-year agreements with companies that supply the solar panels are designed to both save money and create more green energy in town. He said the savings from all the solar projects could total $2 million to $4 million over the life of the agreements.
Boman said after the meeting that the solar panels to be installed at Fire Station No. 1 would provide 15 to 20 percent of electricity used there, and solar panels to be installed at the DPW garage and Fairfield Senior Center would provide 50 percent of electricity used in those buildings. Solar panels to be installed by the Parks and Recreation Department's building would provide 25 percent of electricity used there, Boman said.
The agreements for the DPW garage and Fairfield Senior Center are with limited liability companies in Middletown that are referred to as "Greenskies" on the Board of Selectmen's agenda. The agreements for the 70 Sanford St. building and Fire Station No. 1 are with Skyview Fairfield LLC of Port Chester, N.Y., which was identified as Skyview Solar on the selectmen's agenda. The DPW garage would have 638 photovoltaic panels with a capacity of 194.6 kilowatts, while the Fairfield Senior Center would have 1,067 photovoltaic panels with a capacity of 325.4 kilowatts, according to the agreements.
The quantity of solar panels that would be installed on the roof of the Sanford Street building and Fire Station No. 1 weren't available, but the capacities would be 147 kilowatts and 29 kilowatts, respectively.
Selectman Kevin Kiley said the companies haven't been around for 20 years because the technology hasn't been around that long, but he said the agreements have termination and performance clauses that had been reviewed and approved by the town attorney.
The largest project, which the selectmen delayed its vote on until September, would provide 70 percent to 75 percent of electricity used at Tomlinson Middle School, Boman said. He said the solar panels would provide a megawatt of electricity and be built over the downtown railroad station's parking lot. Charging stations for electric cars also would be installed, he said.
Kiley questioned how the town would clear snow off the solar panels planned at the railroad station since that project is so much bigger than the other projects.
"It isn't one structure. It's a series of structures," Boman said of the panels. "It's tilted, not a flat surface, and it's worked in upstate Connecticut and Vermont. It gets snow to one focal point and then down to the ground."
The solar panels wouldn't take away any parking spaces used by rail commuters because the panels would be over the parking lot and motorists could park cars underneath them, Boman said.
Selectman Cristin McCarthy Vahey said she finds the solar panel projects exciting and asked whether the town could use them to provide electricity at its schools. Boman said that possibility was being investigated for Riverfield School and that school buildings are ideal for solar panels because they have large, flat roofs.
The selectmen on Wednesday also approved a microgrid to provide power in a catastrophe to the Police Department headquarters, Fire Station No. 1, the Emergency Communications Center in the basement of the Police Department, Operation Hope, a homeless shelter next to the Police Department, and a cell phone tower at 100 Reef Road.
The microgrid would cost $1.3 million, but $1.17 million would be reimbursed through a state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection grant. The $132,341 cost to the town mostly would be used to buy a natural gas-powered generator to replace a diesel gas-powered generator at the Police Department. Boman said the diesel gas-powered generator needs to replenished with diesel gas after 10 to 12 hours, while the natural gas-powered generator would be tied into underground gas lines.
"If you couldn't get diesel fuel to it for one reason or another, we'd lose all our power," Boman said of the existing generator. He said the diesel generator also does not provide power to the fire station, Operation Hope or the cell phone tower at headquarters.
Boman, however, said the diesel generator is in good shape and could be used at a school.
Other parts of the microgrid project, under an agreement between the town and Schneider Electric of Salisbury, involve installing photovoltaic generators on the roofs of Operation Hope and Fire Station No. 1. Boman said he'd also like to have a maintenance agreement with Schneider Electric for the microgrid which he estimated would cost $8,000 to $10,000 a year.
The solar power agreements require approval from the Representative Town Meeting, while the microgrid project requires approval from the Board of Finance and RTM.