Carports could double high schools’ solar power use
FAIRFIELD — Town public high schools could double their reliance on solar power with proposed parking lot structures bearing solar panels and electric car chargers.
The carports would go up this summer in Fairfield Ludlowe and Warde high school student parking lots, pending school board and town selectmen’s approval this spring. The current designs — raised solar panel arrays supported by beams that would shelter patches of the lots — would double both schools’ solar use at no cost to the district or town, Clean Energy Task Force Chairman Scott Thompson said at an April 6 Board of Education meeting.
“I so whole-heartedly endorse this,” board member Jennifer Maxon-Kennelly said. Because a power purchasing agreement would be created, in which a solar company would fund the installation and a 20-year static rate for purchasing the generated solar power would be set, she added, “We’re talking millions. It’s just amazing.”
The task force calculated minimum electricity savings from the carports to be more than $1.2 million over time, expanding the town’s annual clean energy savings. The carports would be constructed and maintained by a solar power company, Port Chester-based Skyview Ventures, on the leased space. Solar panels installed on six public schools’ roofs last summer have already played a part in lower projected utilities costs in the school board’s 2017-18 budget.
Rooftop solar installations currently generate about one-third of the power both Warde and Ludlowe use, and the carports would generate another one-third. Along with environmental benefits from majority reliance on solar power, Thompson said the carports could dilute light pollution, generate fiscal savings and offer educational opportunities.
A Ludlowe physics teacher said in December he planned to use the high school’s rooftop solar installation as a real-world teaching tool for students, alongside a display that had been installed in the school’s cafeteria. Ludlowe was among six schools that got monitors to display information about their rooftop solar installations late last year.
“This is something they’ll see every day that will be a part of their life. The educational opportunities will be tremendous,” Thompson said. With carports at both town high schools, every public school student would at some point experience the solar arrays, he said, and both experience hands-on learning about the environment and solar technology as well as see “they’re in a smart town that cares about the environment.”
Lot paving and snow plowing could be done without additional cost around and beneath the raised structures. No parking spots would be lost and construction would be planned from late June through the end of August this year to avoid disrupting student parking during the school year. The Ludlowe carports would not be in neighbors’ views and vegetation might be added at the north end of Warde’s lot to shield some visibility for neighbors near the high school, according to the Clean Energy Task Force’s proposal.
The carports would also contain charging stations for electric cars. Following conditions the Board of Education added when approving two EV charging stations at each high school in October, the carport chargers would be on timers and only on during school hours for student use.
To install the carports over the summer, Thompson said Board of Education and Board of Selectmen approval would be needed by mid-May. The school board’s next regular meeting is May 9.