Solar Power

The City Council will let the Newport News School Board install solar panels at a middle school after denying similar requests earlier this year.

In a 5-2 vote Tuesday, the council approved a permit allowing the school division to install a 3.8-acre solar array on empty land between Todd Stadium and Gildersleeve Middle School.

The array, built for free by Sun Tribe Solar, will power the school and the district’s administration building via underground cables. The district will pay Sun Tribe for the electricity generated over the next 30 years; it estimates the move will save hundreds of thousands on power bills.

In January, the council denied a request to install ground-mounted arrays at two other schools. Members expressed concerns about safety, cutting down trees and the amount of land being used.

Greg Harrow, the district’s plant services supervisor, helped oversee Middlesex County schools’ shift to solar power before coming to Newport News. He assured the council Tuesday that the district had done extensive planning and research to make sure the array would be safe.

“I can guarantee that I wouldn’t be standing in front of you here today relying on those sole words if I wasn’t 100% confident in that,” Harrow said.

In 2019, the School Board signed an agreement with Sun Tribe to install panels at schools across the district. At some schools, Sun Tribe has installed panels on the roof, which doesn’t require city approval. The school district has mostly focused on installing roof solar panels along with already planned roof replacements.

Sun Tribe is also helping the schools replace roofs that the city hasn’t funded. The school district is paying about $500,000 per roof up front, along with increased electricity costs, to pay for Sun Tribe’s contractors to replace roofs at Heritage and Woodside high schools this summer and install solar panels. The roof at Heritage alone was expected to cost $4.5 million.

But if they’re installed on the ground, the schools need a permit from the city.

Installing panels on Gildersleeve’s roof didn’t make sense, Sun Tribe development manager Frank Dubec told the City Council. The roof was replaced within the last five years, according to district construction plans. It’ll likely need to be replaced before the solar panels. Removing and re-installing them to replace the roof would be costly.

Similar issues had led to the earlier proposals to build ground solar panel arrays at Saunders Elementary School and Hines Middle School. Two council members ho voted against the earlier plans — Pat Woodbury and Saundra Cherry — voted for the Gildersleeve array.

Woodbury had expressed concerns about safety. In Tuesday’s meeting, she asked Sun Tribe representatives about the risks from chemicals created in the manufacturing process.

Sun Tribe said they’ve never had a solar panel crack. The company will take care of recycling the panels at the end of their contract.

“Newport News schools have over 340 school buses,” Dubec said. “A leaky oil pan from one of those buses poses a far more immediate threat to safety and the environment than this solar array every will.”

Council members who voted against the earlier plans had worried about trees being removed for the arrays. Most of the Gildersleeve site is an already cleared field though, although some nearby trees will still be removed.

Mayor McKinley Price and and Sharon Scott voted against the Gildersleeve panels on Tuesday. The district has no plans to expand Gildersleeve, and the land is currently unused.

But Price said he was worried about the district locking several acres of land up in a 30-year contract.

“If it was an opportunity for us to vote on this system going on schools, I would vote for it, on roofs,” Price said. “My problem is the land use issue.”

Matt Jones, 757-247-4729, i">>mjones@dailypress.com

Source : https://news.yahoo.com/initial-denials-newport-news-city-174900463.html

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