Energy efficient: Solar panels helping schools save $200,000 in expected utility costs

Published on Friday, 15 December 2017 22:25


PLYMOUTH - Solar panels and paying attention to energy use have saved the school district hundreds of thousands of dollars over the past two years alone, according to Martin Sandshaw, energy conservation consultant.

Sandshaw gave his annual energy savings report to the Board of Education recently.

Since early 2016, the schools have benefited from a photovoltaic solar panel field next to Terryville High School, and rooftop panels at Eli Terry Jr. Middle School, and Fisher and Plymouth Center elementary schools.

Sandshaw showed graphs demonstrating that the high school now produces more power than it uses.

“The other schools aren’t quite up to that just because of the size of the (solar panel) arrays, but if you do the math you’ll see that well over 85 percent of kilowatts used are being produced by solar. I believe it’s really paying us benefits,” he said.

For fiscal year 2015-16 the energy costs were expected to be almost $729,000 but were closer to $490,000. The expected costs were figured by using the base year figures adjusted according to current conditions, such as building use, equipment age, energy costs, and weather conditions, Sandshaw explained.

“In 2016-17 our expected costs were almost $627,000, and our costs were actually $433,000,” he said.

Sandshaw also estimated the energy savings from moving the board’s central offices from the old Main Street School to the high school would be about $31,223, based on electrical and heating costs from 2016-17.

In August, the board moved from the old school, located across from Town Hall, to newly remodeled offices on the ground floor of the high school. The move was prompted by poor conditions at the old school, including a broken boiler, a leaking roof and asbestos that needs to be removed.

“Teamwork is the secret to this whole thing,” Sandshaw said. “We’re all part of this puzzle, without teamwork we can’t make it happen.”

He cited a recent example from when he was walking around Fisher on a weekend. “I walked into a room in there and it was 80 degrees and it was unoccupied. I immediately sent a note out to our director of maintenance and by Monday morning they had brought it back down to 62 or 63 degrees, where it’s supposed to be.”

“There was a thermostat valve that had failed, but without going through in the unoccupied times we wouldn’t have known that. Our maintenance people are so great, they responded immediately to anything that we have,” he said. “It’s significant savings for the district in these trying times.”

“It does take boots on the ground sometimes to identify these issues,” said Superintendent Martin Semmel. “It has been a tough budget year but we knew having your position actually ends up helping us avoid a lot of extra costs.”

In November Sandshaw’s position had been one of several eliminated as the board sought to save money in light of cutbacks in state aid to education. However, it was restored in early December, at a cost of $13,800 for the rest of the school year.

Semmel said Sandshaw has saved the schools a lot of money over the years and the contract with the energy conservation consulting company Cenergistic mandates the district have someone on staff paying attention to energy usage.

Sandshaw said his objective is not to make any changes but just to observe what’s going on with energy use and give recommendations on how to improve.

Phillip Penn, district business manager. said“You’ve got me walking around my area at night seeing that people turn their stuff off. It’s changing behaviors that drives a lot of this too.”

“That’s the secret,” Semmel agreed, “being aware of how we use energy.”

Susan Corica can be reached at 860-973-1802 or

Posted in The Bristol Press, Plymouth on Friday, 15 December 2017 22:25. Updated: Saturday, 16 December 2017 09:31.