ORLEANS — The long and frustrating road to the installation of a solar canopy at Nauset Regional Middle School is nearing an end.
After two years of delays caused by pandemic-related supply-chain shortages and steep price increases, construction of the canopy is now finished, and the regional school district is awaiting an OK from Eversource to flip the switch on the solar panels, which Cape and Vineyards Electric Cooperative (CVEC) Executive Director Maria Marasco says will come by the end of February.
The project is part of an agreement between the school, CVEC, and solar energy developer DSD Renewables to install solar panels above the parking lot, with an option for the school to purchase the canopy after a 20-year leasing period.
CVEC, whose members include 23 Massachusetts towns, Barnstable County, and the Cape Light Compact, buys and distributes energy through municipal projects across the Cape and Martha’s Vineyard.
The agreement was first signed by CVEC and DSD in June 2020. It stipulated that DSD would design and install the solar canopy for free in exchange for a fixed net energy price of 4.5 cents per kilowatt hour, paid to DSD by the school district. Nauset would also pay an administrative fee of one cent per hour to CVEC for managing the project.
But an increase in steel prices and backlogs of equipment stalled the project, according to Marasco.
“The delays are indicative of what the entire U.S. market has been facing,” she said. “Post-Covid constraints on supply chains and the subsequent impact of inflation has affected the majority of solar PV projects.”
By the time Eversource signed off on an interconnection agreement in November 2021 and DSD could begin installing the panels, “pricing for steel went through the roof,” said Marasco.
The 4.5 cents per KWh was no longer feasible, said Jim Nowack, Nauset’s assistant director of finance and operations. “They said they could no longer do it for that price,” he said. “That was when I kind of had sour grapes.”
In March 2022, DSD, CVEC, and the school district agreed on a new price, 14.5 cents per KWh — a 222-percent increase — according to documents obtained by the Independent through a public records request.
“We amended the price to adjust to these volatile and extraordinary market conditions,” Marasco said.
But Nowack and Nauset Regional School Committee Chair Chris Easley felt they had no choice. “We did have to go forward with it,” Nowack said, but “the contract was written more in their favor.”
“It was take it or leave it,” Easley said. “You’re hung over a barrel. You don’t have a choice because you’re already invested in it. They were manipulating the financial wherewithal of the school. This is an instance of a public entity taking advantage of a public entity.”
Construction finally began in July 2022, and the district was told the project …….