Frustrations surface over push for solar panels at middle school

Resilience and Energy Committee member blames schools for lost energy savings

By Josh Bickford
Posted 5/3/23

A member of the town’s Resilience and Energy Committee is questioning the School Committee’s recent decision to wait before signing a deal with a company that wants to install solar …

This item is available in full to subscribers.

Please log in to continue

Log in

Register to post events

If you'd like to post an event to our calendar, you can create a free account by clicking here.

Note that free accounts do not have access to our subscriber-only content.

Day pass subscribers

Are you a day pass subscriber who needs to log in? Click here to continue.

Frustrations surface over push for solar panels at middle school

Resilience and Energy Committee member blames schools for lost energy savings


A member of the town’s Resilience and Energy Committee is questioning the School Committee’s recent decision to wait before signing a deal with a company that wants to install solar panels on the middle school roof.

Shortly after the April 20 meeting where School Committee members called for a third party analysis of the proposed solar panel agreement, Resilience and Energy Committee member Magnus Thorsson sent an email to School Committee Chairman Patrick McCrann. In it, Thorsson questioned the legitimacy of the School Committee’s concerns about fiscal responsibility.

“The efforts to be ‘concerned’ with entering into a PPA (power purchase agreement) on 4/20 under the guise of fiscal responsibility seem a little flaccid,” Thorsson wrote. “I am not aware of any effort by any member of the School Board at any time to bring renewable energy to the Barrington Middle School or any other Town owned property.”

Thorsson later added in all capital letters: “WE CANNOT CONTINUE TO WASTE TIME WAITING FOR THE PERFECT SOLUTION.”

McCrann responded to Thorsson a short time later. He thanked Thorsson for “serving notice of your intent to escalate your cause to the highest levels.”

“We are indeed aligned, however the rules and processes that govern our work are not the same,” McCrann wrote in his emailed response. “Given that since my first election in 2018 there has been no conversation or agenda item for solar panels at BMS (our process for working), what has happened with SOLECT in the last two months represents a quantum shift in official attention and energy to the need for sustainable energy solutions.”

Solect Energy is the company that recently entered into an agreement with the town’s municipal government to install a small array of solar panels at the Bay Spring Community Center. At the Town Council’s January meeting, officials voted 5-0 to approve the new installation. Allen Giles, a representative from the Massachusetts-based Solect Energy, attended the Council meeting and shared a presentation highlighting the benefits of signing an agreement. He said Solect will pay for the project and the town will save hundreds of thousands of dollars in utility bills over a 25-year lease term. 

Giles attended the April 20 School Committee meeting and shared a presentation about a possible solar installation atop the middle school roof. He referenced a possible 20-year lease agreement which could generate approximately $475,000 in energy savings for the district. 

School Committee member TJ Peck said he had heard recently that it may be better for the community to install and own the system, rather than signing a power purchase agreement with a company. Peck said it makes sense for the district to bring in a third party consultant to take a closer look at the PPA and then advise school officials. Peck said currently, the only group offering information to the School Committee is Solect Energy which stands to make a profit on the agreement. 

The School Committee’s attorney, Aubrey Lombardo, appeared concerned about the district entering into an agreement with the company since the previous agreement and RFP had been issued by the municipal government and not the school district. 

Barrington Town Manager Phil Hervey attended the April 20 School Committee and spoke on the issue. He said the town had received a legal opinion from its solicitor, Michael Ursillo, stating that the agreement would be compliant. 

McCrann said it sounded like a good idea to move forward with a third party consultant and also have the School Committee’s attorney speak with the town solicitor. 

Giles then spoke about the solar installment at the Bay Spring Community Center. He said that putting in that system would be expensive for the company, and that it would make better fiscal sense if the work was done as part of a larger project that included an installment of roof-top solar panels at the middle school. 

Peck said the Barrington School Department cannot be a solution for a smaller project without officials fully vetting a middle school installation. 

Hervey countered that the vetting would take place during the process, but Peck said the Committee wanted to vet the project first before signing any agreement and moving forward. 

Hervey said that could delay the work another year. 

Peck said solar is a 20-year investment and that school officials were not going to rush forward for the sake of the Bay Spring Community Center installation. 

In his followup email to the School Committee chairman, Thorsson agreed that the best approach for the district would be to purchase the solar equipment and complete the installation itself. He wrote that the Resilience and Energy Committee would support that approach, but warned against moving too slowly on the project.

“Six years ago, the voters spoke,” Thorsson wrote, referring to the inclusion of solar energy infrastructure included in the construction of the new middle school. “Six years' worth of opportunity to reap the benefits of renewable energy in the curriculum and on the operating ledger, have been intentionally squandered. This failure of governance rests squarely on the hands of the school board. 

“Taxpayers deserve swift and responsible action. The school board has already caused delays costing the town over $350,000 in missed operating savings and approximately $250,000 capital investment is sitting dormant. I am ready to work with you to find a pragmatic solution and get solar installed ASAP. We can easily find a solution to benefit Barrington students and taxpayers without entering a war of attrition. We serve the same stakeholders.”

McCrann responded: “Despite your urging and frustration, the committee cannot simply skip the required processes for fiscal responsibility and planning that we have in place. Particularly when entering a 20 year agreement. 

“I look forward to continuing our collaboration and a positive outcome for our community.”

2024 by East Bay Media Group

Barrington · Bristol · East Providence · Little Compton · Portsmouth · Tiverton · Warren · Westport
Meet our staff
Jim McGaw

A lifelong Portsmouth resident, Jim graduated from Portsmouth High School in 1982 and earned a journalism degree from the University of Rhode Island in 1986. He's worked two different stints at East Bay Newspapers, for a total of 18 years with the company so far. When not running all over town bringing you the news from Portsmouth, Jim listens to lots and lots and lots of music, watches obscure silent films from the '20s and usually has three books going at once. He also loves to cook crazy New Orleans dishes for his wife of 25 years, Michelle, and their two sons, Jake and Max.