Take charge of high school power needs


To the Editor:

We have just learned that the HVAC systems at the Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School must be replaced at great cost, and that this will increase the operating cost of the campus (Oct. 22, “Replacement of high school HVAC system has $4.8 million price tag”).

I see this as an opportunity to zero out the operating costs and recoup the implementation cost over time, and to demonstrate civic responsibility in the face of oncoming climate change.

On that broad, broad roof of the school, there is room for enough solar panels to power all the electrical requirements of the school, including additional air-exchange systems for heating and cooling. Solar hot water and geothermal heat exchange can be part of the mix.

In a residential or commercial system, 30 percent of implementation cost is returned in the form of a federal tax rebate. The school cannot get this, because it is a not-for-profit public institution. I recommend against going with a commercial enterprise that builds and owns the solar plant and sells power at a 10 percent reduction, as some towns have done.

Instead, I propose creation of a corporation or LLC to own the photovoltaic system and sell electricity to the school. It could also have the chartered purpose of supporting education programs in the school such as sports, science programs, arts and performances, and trips, according to criteria to be established in its organizing documents.

Its revenue would come from three sources: 1) sale of solar renewable energy credits (SRECs) over the first 10 years of operation (longer if the SREC program is extended). SREC income is not taxable. My relatively small residential photovoltaic system has earned close to $9,000 in SREC income since January 2013. 2) sale of electricity to the school at, say, a 50 percent discount from the market rate. 3) return of 30 percent of the implementation cost in the form of a federal tax rebate.

The only significant expense of the legal entity that owns the photovoltaic system will be a lease of the school’s roof. If one of its purposes is support to education programs, those contributions would be an expense. These contributions might have tax implications.

Break-even on a typical residential photovoltaic system is about five years. Contributions to school programs would push the break-even point out farther.

Private benefactors could participate in formation of the entity that owns the power generation system. A private-public collaboration on these lines would reduce the public burden on the towns in the form of bonds or other conventional funding vehicles, such as are usually undertaken for this sort of project.

Once costs have been recouped, the ongoing reduction of operating costs would benefit the school and the towns for years to come. If a lease-purchase arrangement were to be decided, the ancillary support to school programs would end with ownership of the system by the school.

I urge all concerned to take these ideas into consideration in your planning to fix the HVAC mess at the Regional High School. I am sure they can be developed further for our common benefit as a community.

Bruce E. Nevin, on behalf of 350 Martha’s Vineyard Island, the Martha’s Vineyard Peace Council, and the Peace & Social Concerns Committee of Martha’s Vineyard Friends Meeting (Quakers)