In Ashburnham, Massachusetts, the successful installation of a solar photovoltaic system at the town’s municipal light plant has inspired town and light plant officials to ask for a federal grant to take solar a step further; installing solar panels at both Oakmont Regional High School and the Ashburnham Public Safety Building.
The system at the light plant on 24 Williams Road, rated at 13.68 kilowatts, was a project of Evergreen Solar and installed by Allain & Son, Inc. The installation is the result of Massachusetts’ Green Communities Act, which aims for increased production of renewable energy in the state.
The grant, $150,000, will come via the $2.7-billion federal Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grant Program, which is a provision in the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.
The program is administered by the U.S. Department of Energy, or DOE, from the DOE’s Office of Weatherization and Intergovernmental Programs, and operates through the Massachusetts State Dept. of Energy Resources.
The major impetus for the new solar installations comes from Stanley Herriot, manager of Ashburnham Municipal Light Plant, who notes that – while solar installations have a long payback period, even with federal and state incentives – it also helps the town (and the state) begin the essential move toward cleaner sources of energy which will free the nation from fossil-fuel dependence, provide energy security, and prevent the production of the greenhouse gases implicated in climate change.
The system at the light plant is a significant expenditure, and produces notable amounts of clean energy. The solar system slated for the public safety building will be in the 25-kilowatt range, producing enough electricity to power two or three homes. The system at the school will be smaller, providing about 10 kilowatts, or enough for one large, American home, and will be more of an educational tool than a significant power generator, except during summer vacation, when it may actually produce enough electricity to send some back to the grid.
The three, however, display an increasing preference for, and reliance on, solar energy, and – while still collectively small in terms of electricity production – represent a portion of the solar marketplace that analysts tend to ignore because it is so incremental.
A report from the Renewable Energy Trust, a program of the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative, shows 47 systems are currently producing 533,804 kilowatt-hours of electricity this year and offsetting 383 metric tons of carbon dioxide. This is the same as removing more than 73 cars from the road, or planting almost 10,000 trees.
In fact, it is these incremental increases across the nation that put solar energy in the same category as The Little Engine That Could; one day a struggle toward grid parity, the next a success.