Ridgefield nears completion of solar panel installation; $4M in energy savings possible with project

Solar panels on the roof at Barlow Mountain Elementary School in Ridgefield.

Solar panels on the roof at Barlow Mountain Elementary School in Ridgefield.

Contributed / Dwayne Escola

RIDGEFIELD — The town has nearly completed a project to install solar panels on all of its schools and multiple buildings, which could save Ridgefield up to $4 million in energy costs over the next 20 years, an official said.

The work, which is underway at no cost to the town, is expected to be completed by the end of the year.

The school district is "delighted to continue our partnership with the town's Energy Task Force," Ridgefield Schools Superintendent Susie Da Silva said. "Together, we are always looking for ways to benefit the community financially and Mother Earth."

Installation is starting at Branchville Elementary School, with Ridgefield High next in line for solar panels. That work is expected to take the summer to complete, displacing summer school classes.  

Each school will generate enough electricity to power 13 houses for a year, said Ridgefield resident Dwayne Escola, chairman of the town's Energy Task Force.

Each home uses about 150,000 kilowatt hours per year, he said.

"The high school roof is an exception — it will produce enough electricity to supply what around 32 homes would use in a year," Escola said. 

The electricity produced by the solar panels will be used by the schools. 

Project's history

The project got underway about six years ago, starting with Farmingville Elementary School, Escola said. 

Over the years, solar panels were put on the roofs of Scotts Ridge Middle School and Barlow Mountain Elementary School.

To date, seven schools and two town buildings — Yanity Gym and the Venus Municipal Building on East Ridge Road — have solar panels installed. The panels, which are made from silicon, have a 25-year warranty.   

"The efficiency of solar panels has doubled in the 10 years I've been in this business," said Escola, a retired solar company owner who helped the town plan and manage the applications for the project.

As part of the project, a series of large canopies will be built over 285 of the 334 spaces in the student parking lot at Ridgefield High. Solar panels will then be placed over those canopies. 

The canopies are a "huge project," Escola said. "The solar canopy is about 13 feet above the parking lot surface so trucks and buses can pass under it. The canopy will shade the cars and also keep the snow off of them in the winter."

Additionally, a second solar panel will be placed at Barlow Mountain Elementary School, possibly this summer. 

"It's a bigger school and uses more electricity," Escola said. "It has much bigger space on the roof." 

Money savings

The solar panel project was funded by private investors, who are paying the installation and maintenance costs.

"The investors pay for the cost of materials and labor as well as all the fees for permits, etc., and they maintain the system for 20 years," Escola said. "The town provides the roof or parking lot space in exchange for less costly electricity. The investors get a 30 percent tax credit and can take a depreciation expense on their taxes. They get part of the solar production as a steady payment from the town."

"They make some really great investment payback on those," he said. "Their internal rate of return on these investments is between 10 and 12 percent."

The average savings to the town with each school is between $15,000 and $20,000 a year, he said.

"These are fixed prices for 20 years," he said. "As inflation comes in, we start saving more and more every year. 

"But it should be enough to save us about $4 million, in total, for the next 20 years."

The high school canopy will generate over a million kilowatt hours of electricity per year, Escola said.

"When we get all these solar systems installed ... then we'll have enough electricity generated to be equivalent to 250 homes," he said.