By: Jaclyn Kotora, Editorial Staff (‘23)

On January 5th, 2023, the Board of Education paused the Energy Savings Improvement Plan, known as the ESIP project. This project intends to install solar panels, while making other improvements to the District’s infrastructure in an effort to potentially achieve energy savings. The hold placed on this project caused some stirrings among the RIH community, as the project had been a long time in the making.

The ESIP seemed to be officially started by the district in early-to-mid 2022. In an overview of the project presented at the BOE meeting on October 17th, 2022—and again on November 14th, 2022—the priorities of the ESIP project were listed as follows: solar renewable electric generation, LED lighting in the district, lighting controls, an energy management system, and an energy-efficient building envelope (meaning an effective boundary between the conditioned interior and environment on the exterior). An additional priority of classroom air conditioning was mentioned in the October presentation; however, it was removed from the ESIP Priorities in the November presentation. The Board requested proposals for ESCO services, in which DCO Energy, LLC and Willdan Group Inc. responded. An energy service company (ESCO) is a company that provides a range of energy solutions including designs and implementation of energy savings projects. A Committee, through the Board of Education, thoroughly reviewed both proposals, including interviewing the proposers, and eventually decided to go with DCO’s proposal. Outlined in the Summary Report and Analysis of Energy Service Companies (ESCO) Proposals and Recommendation, “It was apparent from the proposal and the interview that DCO was the most attentive to the school district’s desired project.” For additional information regarding the proposals see the district website and search “Energy Service Companies (ESCO).

The DCO then assisted in evaluating the proposals made by qualified contractors for a Power Purchase Agreement (“PPA”) which is involved in the solar panel project. In its PPA Evaluation Report, the DCO concluded that “Solar Landscape’s proposal offers the Ramapo Indian Hills Regional High School the greatest overall economic benefit…” and they suggest that “RIHRHSD will have a favorable long-term relationship with Solar Landscape… [Therefore] DCO Energy recommends that the Solar PV Power Purchase Agreement be awarded to Solar Landscape under the terms set forth in the RFP, and the PPA to be executed by the parties.”

Thus, the contract was awarded to Solar Landscape for a power purchase agreement “for a term of fifteen years for the installation and maintenance of photovoltaic panels for the purpose of generating electricity at all or some of the following school facilities: Ramapo High School and Indian Hills High School.”

As exemplified in these public documents, this Energy Savings Improvement Plan had already had extensive plans and hired contractors to carry out the agreed proposals. 

Before the project’s implementation, however, the BOE suddenly decided to pause the projects. The board president, Ms. Sullivan, explained that the Board initially voted to pause the project “in order for the Board to be informed that the transaction had closed and to read documents the Board had not yet seen” and because there were voiced concerns about safety and financial impact of implementing the project. During this time Ms. Sullivan also mentions that “the Facilities and Finance Committee was able to review and discuss the ESIP plan and ask further questions of the plan’s participants as to safety for our students and staff.”

At first, members of the RIH community were unsure if this pause meant they were going to scrap the project, which confused those who knew about the ongoing planning and hard work that went into the process thus far. 

However, on January 30, 2023, the board voted to un-pause and continue the ESIP project. Ms. Sullivan said, “While the project will go forward, and our administration is mostly responsible for supervising and implementing the same, I believe the new Board is also focused on students and teachers this year, given the Bergen County Superintendent’s (Louis DeLisio) stated advice to all boards in Bergen County to center on student achievement in 2023.  We also are in an important year concerning the negotiation of certain new labor contracts for our employees.”

Solar panels would bring a positive change for the RIH community, as the administration continues to support conservative energy options. The process has already been started, however this is a long term project that should be met with patience and persistence. Students should be made more aware and educate themselves about district changes, especially changes that will aid in the longevity of the school system and positively impact the community.

To learn more about the district Energy Savings Improvement Plan see the RIH district website and search “Energy Savings Improvement Plan (ESIP).