- By Dan Veaner
In a rare tie vote the Lansing Board Of Education Monday decided not to accept a Power Purchase Agreement (PPA) that may have saved the district about a half million dollars over the course of 25 years. If it had been approved RER Energy Group, of Reading, PA, would have constructed a 1.5 MW solar array in North Lansing. The contract would have provided much of the school campus's energy needs, producing approximately 1.5 million kWh per year. But rising costs and changes to the contract made board members question whether they wanted to tie future boards into such a long term contract.
"My gut feeling is that the school is not really benefiting that much overall," said board member Aziza Benson. "Other entities are getting more benefit than the school district."
The 1.5MW solar array would have been constructed on property leased from Hardie Farm in North Lansing. The array would consist of about 5,000 solar modules that are expected to produce 1,712,542 kWh and saving the district $20,989in the first year. Annual savings would rise to $26,540 in the 25th year and potentially reach over a million dollars five years after the contract expired. But this amounted to about half the savings of the original draft in a contract that would run five years longer than an earlier version. For some board members that was too much time for too little savings.
"As I got to see the project I was really looking forward to it," said board member Aaron Thompson. "There were some highs and lows on it over the last couple of years. I was looking forward to it, but as it got toward the end it just doesn't seem that there would be all that much savings for the school or the community. Hopefully in the future we can do it again."
Not all board members were put off by the length of the contract.
"When Chris Santospirito was here she was wonderful in letting us know that the minimum amount of savings was truly a minimum. So we knew how much we would be gaining or losing in this particular project. I'm happy that we have a local land lease," argued board member Julie Boles. "I know there have been questions and concerns about binding a future board. But I think we do that all the time with superintendent contracts. We do that with tenure."
"One thing to remember is that at one time we did approve a PPA," Superintendent Chris Pettograsso reminded the Board. It has changed since then. At one point we had a viable option, but some things fell through and here we are again."
Even when the vote came it didn't appear that some of the board members were entirely comfortable with their decision.
"I hope people understand that a contract with the school district for something like a power purchase agreement is far different than something an individual might do for their household," said Tony Lombardo. "It's far more complex. There was a lot to consider. It's been a long process and it's been difficult."
"I am dedicated to the idea that we will move toward a greener energy future," said board member Susan Tabrizi. "There is no such thing as a perfect agreement. Going into an agreement has costs, but failing to move into an agreement also has costs. Trying to weigh those abstract costs and benefits has been extremely difficult. I think every other member of the Board, our Superintendent, (Business Administrator) Mary June King and Chris Santospirito, who gave us such wonderful advice for being very serious and very diligent. We have all struggled with this and read it 50,000 times and tried to think of every possible contingency. There is no vote taken lightly here."
The vote was 3 to 3 with Lombardo, Tabrizi, and Boles voting yes and Benson, Thompson and School Board President Christine Iacobucci voting no. The vote was possibly the first tie in over a decade for the Lansing board. But it was not enough to approve the contract.
"I want to reiterate one more time that we're all for clean energy and the future of our planet," Iacobucci said. "We look forward to future solar and other renewable energy sources."