New Canaan explores solar energy
The Town of New Canaan is on a mission for different energy sources. While the town is in the midst of hearing Yankee Gas' proposal to tap into a natural gas pipeline, the Board of Selectmen heard a presentation from Steve Domyan of Ross Solar to better understand the process and advantages of using solar energy.
"About four or five weeks ago when Yankee Gas came before us and started to explain the process involved in bringing natural gas to our high school and other school facilities, something just told me and some others that while we're looking at natural gas we should look at other means of energy and have that part of the discussion," Selectman Rob Mallozzi said. "Through that conversation, Tanya Bickley actually found this gentlemen, Steve Domyan, from Ross Solar. I met with Steve at the Silvermine Market one morning for breakfast and was impressed with what he had to say."
Domyan spoke to the Board of Selectmen about the details of solar energy but has not actually put an official proposal in place. The selectmen explained that all talks are public but unofficial right now. Domyan stressed in his presentation that solar is primarily used to deal with electricity and is not meant to replace oil or gas. In fact, he said one of the myths about solar panels is that it immediately covers 100 percent of all electricity costs. The reality is it can only cover a percentage of the costs, which can be as high as 60 or 70 percent or as low as 6 percent in some cases. The percentage depends on a number of factors including the size, direction and placement of the roof for the solar panels, he added.
"I can't tell you how many times I go to a residential site and somebody has a huge electric bill and their goal is `Well, I want 100 percent of electricity off my roof,'" Domyan said. "Well turns out their roof is not big enough, they can't get 100 percent and when they find out they are going to get 50 percent ... they lose interest."
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Domyan said from a business standpoint, 50 percent is still a great investment but the assumption by most is that it is 100 percent or nothing at all. In terms of what he can do for New Canaan, Domyan said the schools would be a great starting point. He explained how Saxe Middle School and New Canaan High School are ideal with their flat roofs and use of electricity during the daytime hours. Solar panels take in the most energy between the hours of 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. The problem with most residential sites is the issue of occupancy and usage. Most people are simply not at home during the day seven days a week when solar panels are most effective. With the exception of the summer months, schools are the ideal candidate to fully utilize all that solar has to offer Domyan said.
"I took a look at Saxe and the high school," Domyan said. "They are your classic really great solar roofs. They have flat roofs and people like us like flat roofs because we don't have to punch holes in them or anything else. We can just set them up and it doesn't even matter if the building faces south, east, or west because if the roof is flat we can face the panel in the direction we want."
Domyan was also very surprised at the actual electricity usage in the schools. The year-round cost for electricity is approximately $800,000.
"The other thing that I got to tell you is that I am stunned when I saw the magnitude of the electric bill for those buildings," he said. "That is probably because the town does a good job at using those buildings. I suspect they are used for something almost 12 months of the year and with that goes a huge electric bill. So maybe that is a place where solar can be used to take a bite out of that electric bill. It's not going to make it go down to zero."
In terms of installation costs, Domyan brought up the possibility of state grants that could pay for approximately half the cost. He explained that while the systems are expensive, they are reaching the point where costs are decreasing finally.
"Connecticut offers rebates and programs and the reason that they do is that they see it as a short term thing," Domyan said. "They really believe it is a short term thing [regarding the current high costs of the systems] because the costs of the systems will be much lower (eventually). So they are trying to position them with these programs."
With this first informal discussion in the books, the selectmen hope to move the matter forward.