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Milton, Duxbury are bidding for solar power installations

At least two South Shore towns are trying to qualify for a state-sponsored solar generator, to be installed on the municipal building of their choice.

Milton and Duxbury are competing in the Community Solar Challenge, the state-backed campaign that seeks to direct grass-roots enthusiasm for alternative energy into a concrete goal.

It works like this: When at least 150 donors from a town give $100 each for building new wind turbine projects, the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative installs a 2 kilowatt solar array on a municipal building in that town. The installation is valued at $25,000.

More donations yield a bigger solar panel installation. Duxbury is approaching the finishing line for the challenge by Wednesday’s deadline. Milton organizers say they have already crossed it and are closing in on a second lap.

“Response has been very enthusiastic,” said Laurie MacIntosh of Milton, who puts her town’s total participation at close to 300. “Part of people’s enthusiasm is that we’re very shaded in Milton. Solar is not an option for a lot of homeowners. If they can help the town this way, it’s a way they can participate.”

Quincy, which got a later start on the challenge, has about 50 participants signed up though the Massachusetts Energy Consumers Alliance, said the nonprofit company’s director, Larry Chretien.

The contributions go to the New England Wind Fund, created two years ago by Mass Energy to boost wind power projects. While fossil fuel energy sources continue to benefit from tax subsidies, wind turbines face large upfront costs, Mass Energy says. The fund will provide capital to build new wind power generators.

The challenge combines two of the best known forms of alternative energy, wind power and solar power, but that duality can be a source of confusion.

“People say, are we contributing to solar or wind or both?” said Jim Savicki, a retired high school math teacher and the cochairman of Sustainable Duxbury, the group heading Duxbury’s drive. The contribution goes to the wind fund, Savicki said, but its promotion of alternative energy spreads information about solar, too.

“I was pessimistic myself,” Savicki said of drawing enough participation to meet the challenge. “But in the last few weeks it’s taken off.”

Duxbury has well more than 100 participants and 25 businesses. “We’re trying to bring alternative energy to town,” Savicki said. He expects to make the 150.

Duxbury organizers have discussed putting their 2 kilowatt photovoltaic solar array at either the town’s middle or high school, where students can see how much power the panels are generating. While energy savings from a 2 kilowatt installation are relatively modest – Savicki put it at $500 to $700 a year – the educational value is large.

MacIntosh said Milton school officials and science teachers concluded that the town’s only two viable locations are its high school and Town Hall.

But students throughout town would benefit from the project’s educational value, she said. The solar panel package provided by the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative – hardware, software, maintenance, installation, and consulting services – includes the live feed of data from solar panels available to all schools.

“Science and math teachers will be able to weave that data into the curriculum for grades 3 to 12,” MacIntosh said.

Robert Knox can be reached at rc.knox@gmail.com.

For more information about the state’s Community Solar Challenge program, go to newenglandwind.org.

By Robert Knox
Globe Correspondent

The Boston Globe

27 April 2008