Catching some rays: Ryan Road School’s solar array now live

NORTHAMPTON — City and school officials flipped the switch, figuratively, on a new solar installation at RK Finn Ryan Road Elementary School on Tuesday, bringing Northampton closer to its goal of achieving carbon neutrality by 2030.

The building is the third school in the city to have solar arrays on their roofs, following the elementary schools on Bridge Street and in Leeds. The solar arrays on all three schools were financed by city residents Morey Phippen and Brian Adams, acting through their limited liability company Phippenadams Solar and in partnership with Hatfield-based Northeast Solar.

Speaking to a group of third graders and local officials outside of the Ryan Road location, Mayor Gina-Louise Sciarra thanked Phippen and Adams, along with Northampton’s Energy and Sustainability Officer Chris Mason, for their contributions to help the city reach carbon neutrality.

“Today, we celebrate that we now have operational solar arrays on three of the four Northampton elementary schools,” she said. “Along with other existing arrays at the senior center and survival center, [the school arrays] are actively reducing the amount of fossil fuels the city needs to power our buildings.”

The financing process works by having Phippenadams LLC invest in the arrays, a total of 240 solar panels, and then charge the city for the electricity at a discounted rate. After six years, and after recuperating a return on the investment, Phippenadams will then hand the panels over to the city to be used free of charge.

For Ryan Road, Phippenadams is investing a total of $81,213, bringing the combined investment for all three schools to $257,805, according to Adams.

At Tuesday’s event, Mason estimated that the solar installation would provide about 15% of the school’s electricity and save the school about $13,000 a year in energy costs. A press release from the mayor’s office noted that a similar array installed at the Northampton Senior Center saved 11% more in costs than had been projected.

“We’re saving money right away, because it’s a lower electric cost,” Mason said. “And then after six years, they [Phippenadams] will have earned their money back. And then because they’ve earned the money back, they will turn it around and do it again. So it’s a beautiful deal.”

The remaining elementary school that does not have solar arrays, Jackson Street School, requires roofing repairs before solar can ber installed, Mason said.

Also in attendance at Tuesday’s event was Marianne LaBarge, the city councilor representing Ryan Road’s Ward 6, and Margaret Miller, the ward’s School Committee member, Ryan Road Elementary Principal Karen Albano, and Janne ll Pearson-Campbell, the interim superintendent for Northampton Public Schools.