Education

Mattituck-Cutchogue considering solar project in effort to reduce energy costs

The Mattituck Board of Education is exploring a solar project that could offset annual electricity costs by $500,000, but the many uncertainties that lie ahead mean some board members aren’t totally sold on the proposal.

According to athletic director and grounds supervisor Greggory Wormuth, the idea dates back nearly six years and rapidly changing legislation and regulations has made it difficult for the district to keep up with.

For example, Mr. Wormuth said the district once could have installed solar panels at one location and fed the energy throughout the district, which is no longer an option. That change effectively took the athletic fields on Aldrich Lane in Laurel off the table as a potential location.

Carports with solar at Mattituck High School, a rear portion of the fields at the high school and the roofs at both the high school and Cut-ch-ogue East Elementary are still being considered, Mr. Wormuth said, though some roof repairs may be necessary before solar can be installed.

At a meeting last Thursday, Board member Mary Lynn Hoeg said she was against placing ground-mounted solar near the athletic fields, though they would be in a portion of the fields not used because they are sloped.

“I just think it would be terrible to take those trees down and put solar panels in,” Ms. Hoeg said.

At a meeting in November, the board authorized spending $20,000 for an engineering study to determine specific costs and savings, as well as a structural assessment of proposed locations for solar panels.

But board member Jennifer Anderson, who was unable to attend November’s meeting, said she didn’t support spending money on the study, citing pandemic-related expenses and cuts to state aid the board is contending with.

“And we’re only halfway through the school year,” Ms. Anderson said. “I would have preferred to see those funds used for necessary items to keep our schools open, pay our staff, PPE, et cetera,” she said.

Though he agreed that the board should be mindful of its expenditures, member George Haase said the board should gather more information. “If this is something that can greatly reduce our cost for years going forward, I think we have to seriously consider it,” he said.

Unofficial estimates project the project could cost between $4 and $6 million and the study is expected to include a payback time frame.

Vice president Douglas Cooper said he’d be skeptical of anything above a 10- or 15-year payback period, but noted that he’s focusing on the longterm impacts. “[The system] should last somewhere between 20 and 30 years. If it can save us $500,000 a year, that’s a lot of taxpayer money,” he said, adding that it would set an example for students.

“In an age where there’s global warming … to have the students see that we are trying to do something about it is a great thing,” he said.

Ms. Anderson fears that costs for maintaining the system could deplete capital reserves, which could lead to tax increases or cuts elsewhere. “I am in favor of sustainable energy, it’s just the cost of taking on a project like this that concerns me,” she noted.

Once the engineering study, which is expected to be underway soon, is completed, the district can make a decision and begin seeking approvals from PSEG Long Island.