Ripton eyes new school roof with solar panels

RIPTON — Ripton voters on Town Meeting Day will be asked to spend up to $150,000 to put a new roof on their elementary school. And in a separate vote on the same day, they’ll be asked to add to that new roof 200 solar panels in order to generate electricity to reduce the school’s energy bill for at least the next 20 years.

The Ripton Elementary School building is 22 years old. The building’s shingled roof has now exceeded its 20-year life expectancy and has occasionally sprung some leaks during bad storms, according to Ripton School Board Chairwoman Carol Ford. A contractor did some troubleshooting to the roof a few years ago by extending the eaves and making related improvements to the school’s ventilation system.

“It is a lot better to plan for roof replacement than have an emergency replacement,” Ford said.

Residents will therefore be asked to approve up to $250,000 to install a new standing seam metal roof. Plans call for the district to take $100,000 from the school’s capital reserve fund to take the price tag down to $150,000. Residents would pay off that debt through a 20-year bond issue that would add around 1.4 cents to the local property tax rate, according to Addison Central Supervisory Union Business Manager Laura Nassau.

If townspeople approve the new roof, the results of the second referendum — on whether to spend up to $130,400 on solar panels for the roof — will hold sway. Specifically, Monkton-based Addison Renewable Energy would place 200 solar panels, covering roughly 3,500 square feet, on the south facing portion of the roof. The project would generate power to help reduce the school’s dependence on conventional electricity to operate lights, computers and other devices.

Supporters of the project believe it would provide both environmental and economic advantages for Ripton taxpayers.

Warren King, Ripton’s energy coordinator, noted that by acting now, the town would be able to use a $77,000 grant through the state’s Small Scale Renewable Energy Incentive Program. That grant money — which will soon run out — is what would bring the project cost down to $130,400. Voters would be asked to pay that debt through another 20-year bond issue.

But annual debt service payments on the solar project would be covered through the savings derived from the cheaper renewable energy source, and not through an additional property tax, according to King. In fact, King said money saved on the school’s electric bills would more than cover bond payments and result in a combined total of more than $67,000 in electricity savings by year 21. Those savings are projected to be $17,132 in year 25 alone, a point at which the project will be fully paid. These calculations reflect an estimate that the cost of electricity will increase by 5 percent each year.

“If this is going to happen, now is the time to make it happen,” King said of how the timing of the solar project dovetails nicely with the availability of a major grant and the need to replace the roof anyway.

Supporters add that a standing seam roof is ideal for hosting solar panels. That’s because such a roof is sturdy enough to support the weight of the panels, which can clip on to the standing seam infrastructure, King said. That means there would be no need to drill holes into the roof.

King is also pleased that the town would own the solar energy equipment immediately after it is installed. Other Addison County schools have entered into lease arrangements for solar arrays. Those agreements allow the schools to buy the solar equipment after a number of years (factoring in depreciation). But King said a percentage of the financial windfall goes to the investor-owners of the leased solar equipment.

“We will make money from the very first day,” King said of Ripton’s purchase plan. “We like the deal all the way around.”

Work would be done on the Ripton school roof this summer if the referenda are passed on Town Meeting Day. Officials will spend the coming weeks explaining the project to voters in hopes of getting support.

“There will be a lot of disappointed people in town if it doesn’t pass,” King said.

Reporter John Flowers is at johnf@addisonindependent.com.


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