York Hospital has seen the light.
The hospital is planning to demolish the old Fazio’s building on its Woodbridge Road property to make way for a series of solar arrays there and on the adjoining employee parking lot. While they face town ordinance hurdles, and while the overall electricity savings is minimal as compared to total electricity used, President Jud Knox said he and the board are committed to seeing the project through to construction.
“As a major employer in the community, I think the hospital has a responsibility to be a good environmental citizen,” he said. “That’s what it means to me.”
Plans call for two different types of solar racks to be installed. Five fixed ground-mount racks are planned to be built in the back left corner of the lot. In total, the racks will hold 360 panels that together will generate 120.6 kilowatt hours of electricity annually.
Once Fazio’s is demolished, at a cost Knox pegged at about $60,000, six carports will be built along the entire front edge of the property along Woodbridge Road. Atop these will be a total of 456 panels, generating in total 127.68 kilowatt hours of electricity a year. Knox said the lot currently has room for about 100 cars, which will be accommodated between the carports and existing parking around the current York Food Pantry (which will not be demolished).
Put in perspective of the hospital’s total energy use, the panels will generate just a minuscule amount. York Hospital generates 7.5 million kilowatt hours of electricity annually, running through 61 meters systemwide, according to Knox. The panels target the eight smallest meters, which also generate the most expensive electricity, said Geoff Sparrow, director of engineering at Portland-based Revision Energy.
Revision has entered into a power purchase agreement with the hospital, said Sparrow. Under terms of the agreement, Revision will actually own the system on Woodbridge Road and the hospital will pay the company a fixed amount each month. The hospital is currently paying 12.6 cents per kilowatt hour for the electricity on these small meters, and Revision will sell it to them for 11 cents — so it will actually cost the hospital less than it’s paying now, he said.
“We don’t save a lot of money on this,” said Knox. “If you consider the life of the project to be 20 years, we’ll save $200,000 at current projections. Personally, I don’t see energy costs going down over the next 20 years, so I think that figure is conservative.”
Knox, who is leading the charge on this project, said he was motivated to undertake it in part because he installed solar at his house, a move that “has been extremely successful. I did it as much on principal as economics, but it surpassed my expectations.” He said he also believes that it is incumbent on the hospital to look for ways to reduce its energy load while at the same time setting an example for other businesses in town to consider solar.
But there is still a hurdle to clear with the town of York. The lot is ringed by wetlands and a portion of it is within the 100-foot setback. In fact two of the ground-mount racks and portions of the other three as well as one of the proposed carports are all within that setback. According to Code Enforcement Officer Amber Harrison, the racks and carports are considered structures, and thus must abide by the setback requirements.
Harrison said the hospital has several options. She would prefer if they would consider an amendment to the existing ordinance that would allow for solar arrays, but admits this would be fairly time consuming and would involve going to the Planning Board, Board of Selectmen and ultimately the voters.
In another option, the hospital could opt to go before the Board of Appeals, after she’s denied its application, and pursue a variance. This is the option the hospital is considering. A third alternative, redesigning the project, is not feasible, said Knox.
Although he is not involved in this town regulatory end of the project, Sparrow said “common sense” should prevail here. “Right now, it’s a gravel parking lot. But by putting in fixed ground mounts, vegetation will grow under the panels and in between the rows. That will provide cleaner runoff than cars leaking oil,” he said.
Knox said the hospital plans to go before the BOA in the next several months. He said, despite the hurdles, town staff has been encouraging, and he hopes that translates into ultimate approval.