TOWNSEND -- The North Middlesex Regional School Committee voted to sign a net-metering credit agreement Monday that is projected to save the district $220,000 or more annually on its energy costs.
Under the agreement, the school district would purchase energy credits from two solar projects that have been proposed in Townsend and Pepperell. Both projects are still pending approval from the towns, and the agreement would only go forward if all necessary permits are received.
"That is a wonderful opportunity for the North Middlesex Regional School District that would amount to about $220,000 to $260,000 worth of electricity savings across the facilities," said Robert Patterson, of WRPA Services in Arlington, an energy consultant firm that worked on the agreement.
Net-metering agreements allow municipal groups to purchase metering credits at a reduced price. The credits can then be used to pay energy bills.
If the projects are approved by the towns and construction proceeds on schedule, Patterson said, they would be constructed over a three-month period in 2015 and would begin operating that October.
The committee passed the agreement, 7-0. Crystal Epstein and William Hackler abstained from the vote.
The contract lasts for 20 years, over which time the district is expected to save more than $4.3 million. The savings amounts to about 33 percent of the district's electricity budget per year.
Responsibility for the maintenance of the solar facilities is entirely on the developers, Cape Solar IV LLC and Vineyard Solar IV LLC, Patterson said.
Lunch prices rise
The committee voted unanimously to r aise school lunch prices by 20 cents, from $2.35 to $2.55 for elementary schools and from $2.60 to $2.80 for middle and high schools.
Committee Chairman Susan Robbins said the increase is the result of a requirement necessary to keep federal funding.
"We need to raise them to stay in compliance to be able to continue to receive our subsidies from the federal government," Robbins said.
According to a memo sent to the School Committee by Superintendent Joan Landers and consultant John Ledwick, the United States Department of Agriculture currently requires schools to charge an average of $2.65 per meal. The average price in the district was $2.48, meaning a 17 cent increase was required to stay in compliance. The memo recommended that the prices increase by 20 cents to prevent another change from being necessary in a year or two.
If lunch prices were not raised, the money needed to meet that requirement would have to come from elsewhere, Landers said.
"Otherwise we'd have to meet that requirement through the operating budget of the district," Landers said.
The last time lunch prices were raised was in 2011, according to the committee. On a list presented of school lunch prices throughout the region, North Middlesex fell in the middle of a range that began at $2 for elementary-school students in Fitchburg and went as high as $4.50 for lunch for Harvard's high-school students.
"We are by far not the highest priced school lunch but we are also not the lowest," said committee member Brian Edmonds.
Landers also reviewed her goals for the district for the past school year, which included working with the Massachusetts School Building Authority on the North Middlesex Regional High School building project, using data to improve teaching and expanding the district's programs.
She highlighted as major successes from the school year the passage of the high-school construction project by all three member towns, opening of the Gateway Program for post-high-school special-education students, submission of an application to open a public day school for students with severe learning needs, and negotiation of new food service and transportation contracts.
Follow Chelsea Feinstein on Twitter and Tout @CEFeinstein.