FAIRFIELD — The town has put the sun’s free power to good use.

There are 26 municipal solar projects in Fairfield, with five more scheduled to be installed this year, and another four in the planning stages.

There are solar panels atop buildings, panels in the outfield and carports in parking lots that last year saved the town and Board of Education over $160,000. In 2018, that savings should reach about $200,000. In some instances, there is more than one project at a particular location. For example, both high schools have roof panels, as well as solar carports.

“We are helping the environment, helping the economy and helping our taxpayers all at the same time,” First Selectman Mike Tetreau said.

The Board of Selectmen last week approved solar panels for Penfield Pavilion and the regional fire training center. Tetreau said the town has been a leader in solar installations not only on town-owned buildings, but residential buildings as well. About 300 homes in town have solar panels.

“Other towns are coming to see how we are using our school parking lots to save money on electricity,” Tetreau said.

More Information

Municipal solar projects

Existing as of March 2018

Main library

Fairfield Woods branch library

Jennings firehouse

Fire headquarters

Operation Hope

Transfer station

Public Works garage (2)

Animal Shelter (2)

Recreation Center

Fairfield Theatre Co.

Jennings Beach

Hayden field

Smith Richardson garage

Tennis center

Conservation garage

landfill

Fairfield Ludlowe High School

Fairfield Warde High School

Fairfield Woods Middle School

Riverfield School

Mill Hill School

Dwight School

Expected construction 2018

Penfield Pavilion

Fire training center

Senior Center

Senior Center annex

transfer station

Planned

Holland Hill School

Stratfield School

Burr School

Tomlinson Middle School

According to Scott Thompson, chairman of the Sustainable Fairfield Task Force, the town “really started ramping up” its solar projects after Tetreau signed the Clean Energy Communities municipal pledge in 2012, and the task force developed its Clean Energy Action Plan in 2013.

He said Tetreau and Assistant Public Works Director Ed Boman have been very effective at leveraging state and federal programs and have “gained broad acceptance of solar by leading with economic arguments first.”

Thompson said the town almost exclusively adopted the power purchase agreement model for its solar projects, which requires no capital investment on the town’s part. It also creates immediate savings on utility bills, he said, and provides long-term protection against utility price increases.

“Going solar has been an economic no-brainer for the town,” Thompson said, “and the environmental benefits are icing on the cake.”

According to Boman, the roof panels at the Animal Shelter and the Public Works garage on a monthly basis sometimes produce more electricity than is actually used at the facility. When that happens, he said, United Illuminating must buy back the extra energy at the same price they sell it to the town.

If more electricity is produced by the town than they use on an annual basis, UI is required to buy the excess back at a lower wholesale rate, which is about 50 percent of the retail rate, Boman said.

“The projects are designed to avoid that problem from happening,” Boman said. And while it could happen, it hasn’t happened yet, he said.

One of the solar projects, Thompson said, took a degraded property — the old landfill — and turned it into a productive use with economic and environmental benefits.

“The solar provides power to the Water Pollution Control facility, and along with the fuel cell installed there, that facility — which is Fairfield’s No. 1 power user — gets all of its energy and heat from clean energy sources,” Thompson said. He said there is no other project like it in the state.

Not all solar projects proposed by the town have gone forward. Solar carports at the downtown train station, and at the marina, met with opposition and weren’t ultimately done. A lawsuit was filed over the solar carports installed at the Postol Recreation parking lot.

After the uproar over the solar carports at the recreation center, town officials began having meetings with nearby residents of proposed projects.

“Solar energy is just one area,” Tetreau said. “While the town started many years ago focused on clean energy, we have evolved our approach to a more comprehensive focus on sustainability.

We are helping the environment, helping the economy and helping our taxpayers all at the same time.”