Toronto school board halves number of roof repairs to be funded by solar panel program National

The Toronto District School Board will only be able to do half of the school roof repairs it originally hoped under an updated deal to finance the costs through green energy premiums produced through a massive installation of solar panels.

Although board chair Chris Bolton insisted that the deal is “not less” than one first announced in May 2011, the board said Thursday it would be replacing some 4.3 million square feet of its roofing stock, representing between $45-million to $50-million in repair costs, and one-sixth of its total 26 million square feet of roof inventory. That stands in contrast to the $120-million in roof repairs and revenue the board announced in 2011 when it first spoke about a “historic deal” to replace its roofs through money generated from installation of solar panels.

At the time, the board said it could produce up to 66 megawatts of green energy if it got 450 solar power applications approved under Ontario’s feed-in-tariff program (FIT). The FIT program offers green energy producers premium prices for their power, which is then fed into the local power grid.

But after a series of delays due to changes in the FIT program — criticized for driving residential hydro prices up to pay for the high premiums paid — the board received approval in August for just 311 solar power projects. Angelos Bacopoulos, the TDSB’s chief facilities officer, said the remaining applications were rejected because they were ill-placed to meet the Ontario Power Authority’s needs, or would generate more power than Toronto’s local power system could handle.

“If we had gotten 66 megawatts, the amount of roofing [repair the board could do] would probably have doubled,” Mr. Bacopoulos said Thursday. Mr. Bacopoulos added that altogether, the board has $170-million in urgent or high needs roof repairs, and conceded the new solar power plan would only cover less than one-third of that.

Nevertheless, with its FIT approvals in hand, the TDSB said it would start urgently needed repairs on 32 school roofs within the next two weeks. The board will pay for 17 of the schools while its partnership with solar power developer School Top Solar LP will cover the remaining 15.

The remaining one-sixth of roof stock to be repaired will also be covered by School Top Solar and is expected to be done within the next three years. The solar panels must also be installed by School Top Solar within 18 months. Under the partnership, School Top Solar will install and receive FIT revenue for the 311 approved solar panel projects over the next 20 years.

Although premiums under FIT have dropped by 23% since the TDSB first announced its panels-for-repairs plan in 2011 — from 71.3 cents per kilowatt hour to 54.8 cents under the recent approvals — Mr. Bolton said that did not have an effect on the repairs the board is now able to do. However, it will reduce revenues for School Top Solar, said Mr. Bacopoulos, and it is likely the board will “never see” a share of additional revenues that it first envisaged under the earlier FIT program, because of the reduced premiums.

Trustee Sam Sotiropoulos blamed the board for being late getting its FIT applications in, resulting in lower premiums and ultimately “proportionately” fewer repaired roofs than expected.

“This is less than what was hoped for,” he said.

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