Tom Lane: Solar panels aren't to blame

Published: Monday, March 4, 2013 at 5:06 p.m.
Last Modified: Monday, March 4, 2013 at 5:06 p.m.

The article "Solar panels may make school’s roofs worse" (Sun, Feb. 18) was one of the worst articles I have ever seen in the Gainesville Sun. The anthropomorphism or personification of the solar panels actively making the school’s roofs worse is in the theater of the absurd. What the article fails to identify is: What was the cause of the problem and who is responsible?

In a press release from July 5, 2011, Alachua County School Board Facilities Executive Director Ed Gable said that each roof is selected based on its age and condition. The press release also went on to state that "all of the solar equipment is guaranteed for a minimum of 20 years, so the only risk is that the sun doesn't rise!"

This short-sighted approach did not take into consideration that with a 20-year-lease, provisions should have been made for long-term maintenance and eventual roof replacement. This should have been blatantly obvious considering the age of the roof at Kanapaha Middle School.

In simple terms, if maintenance is not an integral part of the lease agreement, roof rental is not likely to be a lucrative deal in the long run. Any potential profit made by this lease has been severely compromised by the $208,620 roof replacement.

Laboratory testing of roof material cannot detect the reason for a leaking roof. Do other district school roofs have the same potential for issues? An inspection of the underside of the roof surfaces that were compromised is the only way to fully verify the real cause of the problem.

The prime contractor has all the responsibility to assess the roof and determine its suitability prior to moving forward. When the contractor goes forward with the project, all responsibility for damages are owned by that contractor for one year after the installation. According to the article, Phase 2 was installed in Spring 2012 and a rainstorm on May 29 caused leaks on Building 9. With proper sealants and flashing techniques, this could have been avoided.

Instead of investigating materials, let’s also investigate the actual installation, or mechanical attachment to the building. If installing solar panels doesn't help, but "it can make it worse," why would the system be installed knowing that all liability rests with the contractor for one year?

Instead of blaming solar panels or roofing materials for causing a problem, I suggest reading the state of Florida's contracting law and accepting responsibility for the choices that were made. I can only hope that any future solar installations on school board properties will contain provisions for roof maintenance and replacement as part of the lease agreement, as well as fulfillment of contractual obligations under Florida's contracting laws.

Tom Lane is president of ECS Solar is Gainesville

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