With incentives from the state and the potential to save money on energy bills, South Shore towns are working toward harnessing renewable energy sources.
While Scituate produces all of its energy through renewable sources, towns such as Norwell are just developing renewable energy projects for the first time.
Scituate was one of the first towns to put up a wind turbine in the region in 2011, and now produces enough energy through the turbine and solar array—which was constructed shortly after the turbine—to provide all the energy the town uses, said Scituate Special Projects Coordinator Al Bangert.
Not only do these initiatives create cleaner energy, but they also save the taxpayer money, Bangert said.
The town leases the land to companies that own and operate the machines, and the town buys the energy from the companies to pay for their energy bills, he said.
Scituate has even been able to produce enough energy on the projects to earn $200,000 from the turbine and $250,000 from the solar array, which is put into an account that selectmen have discretion over, Bangert said.
Some of that money went to funding the police and fire station, he said.
Other towns have learned from Scituate’s model and the town has been happy to share the contracts they wrote up for leasing the land and for buying back the energy to other interested towns, so they can modify the agreements to fit their needs, Bangert said.
Norwell recently signed a contract with Kearsarge Energy in August that gives the town enough energy to power 100 homes a year, said Norwell Town Administrator Peter Morin. The array will be about an acre and will be built as a canopy over a parking lot in an industrial park, he said.
The 20-year agreement the town signed with the company will pay Norwell a yearly fee between $5,500 and $7,298, Morin said. The town will also see a net savings on energy costs of between $19,835 and $31,620 a year, he said.
The agreement is closely aligned to that of other South Shore towns, Morin said.
“The agreement we have was modeled on other communities’ and when we created the overlay district, we also looked at other communities,” he said.
Hanover’s Assistant Town Manager Tony Marino said selectmen in Hanover are considering solar energy, and beginning to look at companies and areas for arrays.
“It’s just another way to utilize land in town,” he said.
While Hanover is just looking into solar energy, the town has had a wind turbine since 2011. The turbine, however, has not been consistently operational during that time.
The turbine has seen numerous break downs and hasn’t been producing the amount of energy anticipated when the project began, and actually didn’t start producing energy until 2013 – two years after the faulty installation.
The turbine was meant to save the Hanover $50,000 a year in energy costs, but in nearly two years, from September 2013 to August 2015, it saved the town $9,008.
Hanover officials had been waiting until the turbine worked for 30 days without a problem before beginning negotiations to potentially take ownership of the turbine, which is the industry standard for problems to be considered resolved. This past September, the turbine passed the 30-day mark for the second time since it had been installed, but issues cropped up again.
The town, however, is beginning negotiations to determine what will come of the turbine. While this might mean that Hanover will take ownership of the machine, that’s not the only option for the turbine’s future, Hanover Town Manager Troy Clarkson said.
Marshfield Town Administrator Rocco Longo said their town is holding off on looking into wind energy until some more kinks are worked out of the system. Even when the machines are functional, issues like noise, flickering lights and shadowing can cause problems for residents who live nearby, he said.
“Scituate and Kingston have great turbines, but there are probably still issues,” he said.
Longo said he wishes Marshfield was a little farther along in investing in energy-saving measures and renewable energy projects.
Marshfield is looking to become part of a Green Communities state program, which offers grants for energy-saving projects, after their application was denied last year, said Longo.
“The most difficult part is the energy reduction plan,” he said. “This year we’re going to reapply and I think we’ll be successful.”
The state program offers grants to participating cities and towns for energy saving projects to encourages clean energy use, said state Department of Energy Resources Communications Director Kevin O’Shea.
“Green Communities are champions for clean energy practices across the Massachusetts and the Baker-Polito Administration is committed to working with our municipal partners to meet our shared goals of lower energy consumption and reduced emissions,” he said.
To date, the program has awarded cities and towns more than $60 million in grants, he said.
Hanover has been a Green Community since 2010 and has received between $144,731 and $194,058 in grants yearly. These have funded projects that reduce energy usage in the school building, replacing boilers and buying hybrid town cars.
Pembroke is working on a $250,000 project to retrofit LED lighting at four schools, and received a grant for $174,400 to install a new energy management system in the library.
Norwell has received a grant from the program to replace town hall lights with LED bulbs and to improve the HVAC systems in the school.
Scituate has been part of the program since 2010 as well, and received a $207,506 grant in 2016 for HVAC and lighting improvements in town buildings and water pumping improvements at the treatment facilities.
Morin said part of the reason Norwell has zoning that allows for solar panels is that it’s one of the five criteria for being part of the Green Communities program. The program not only saves the town the money it would have spent on these projects, but also the energy cost savings by lowering the town’s energy usage, he said.
The participating towns also have to do an energy audit, which shows how much a town uses in energy annually, create a plan to reduce that energy usage by 20 percent in five years, and adopting a more stringent building code.
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