Columnist Adele Franks describes benefits of locally owned renewable energy

  • Stephen Herbert, professor of agriculture at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, left, and farmer Pat Canonica of Boxford walk Aug. 31 past raised solar panels which allow for the land to remain in agriculture as vegetable gardens at the UMass Crop and Animal Research and Education Center in South Deerfield. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

Published: 9/3/2017 11:43:00 PM

The compelling challenge of our time is how to expeditiously and equitably make the transition away from reliance on the fossil-fuel industry toward a local, clean-energy economy.

The first step is acknowledging the need to move away from the old model of centralized fossil fuel power production by distant corporate entities, with power transmitted over long distances by investor-owned utilities.

Better for our communities is a move toward locally owned power generation so that we can keep our money local, reduce our contribution to global warming, expand the benefits of clean energy to everyone, and increase our resilience in the face of power disruptions from severe weather or other catastrophes.

Many in the Pioneer Valley are committed to making rapid progress toward the goals of local power generation and use, and equitable sharing of the benefits of clean energy. Several local organizations have teamed up to help bring about change. Co-op Power, Climate Action Now, Mothers Out Front, and Community Action have formed a collaboration to include those who have so far been left out of the solar energy movement. This effort is named Rays the Valley and focuses on Hampshire, Franklin and Hampden counties.

Our ultimate aim is to achieve locally generated solar power that is developed, owned, and used locally, and is equitably distributed. As part of that long-term effort, our team applied for and was granted a seed award of $60,000 from the U.S. Department of Energy’s SunShot program.

This award will help the development of 2.5 megawatts of solar arrays in such a way as to include low- and moderate-income households and nonprofit organizations that until now have been left out of the solar revolution. We’re bringing several solar solutions to the Pioneer Valley that can work for everyone, all with a path to local ownership.

The most accessible solar options are subscriptions to the power generated by a community solar array. With subscription solar, it is possible for any household, business, organization or municipality to get a discount on their electricity with no money down. Furthermore, Co-op Power has an option to purchase these arrays on behalf of the subscribers at fair market value after 10 years, when the discount can increase even more.

Rays the Valley is currently promoting such opportunities in our area. Through newly built solar arrays, an electricity discount of 15 percent is now available in both National Grid and Eversource territory.

On the municipal front, the town of Whately, joining the Rays the Valley team, is hosting a solar array. Any municipal entity (such as a school, library or water/sewer department) in western or central Massachusetts Eversource territory can sign up for a 20 percent discount on their electric bill, or a fixed discounted electricity rate to protect against price volatility in the coming years.

Anyone interested in a solar subscription can sign up at www.cooppower.coop.

Going forward, our most innovative model creates partnerships with local tax equity investors and lenders interested in making a modest profit while providing a substantial benefit to the community. With such funding, we plan to erect local community solar arrays on rooftops, parking lots and land for which there is no better use (such as capped landfills). Over time, these community solar arrays can be cooperatively purchased at a fraction of fair market value.

Owners of property hosting a community solar array (including municipalities) can receive a yearly lease fee, and/or a share of the energy generated. Much of the solar energy generated by these community solar arrays will be made available to low- and moderate-income households and nonprofit organizations (such as churches, synagogues, schools and service organizations).

A special benefit for nonprofits that host a community solar array on their rooftops or parking lots is that over time they can purchase the array, if desired, at a steep discount.

In these ways, among others, we are widening a path toward locally owned renewable energy to benefit our communities and strengthen our local economy. The clean-energy transition cannot be complete until all households, businesses, organizations, and municipalities have affordable access to locally generated renewable energy.

Rays the Valley is doing its part to increase the momentum toward equity and local benefits from solar energy.

Any household, business, nonprofit, or municipal entity interested in solar should contact lynn@cooppower.coop or visit www.cooppower.coop. To learn more about Rays the Valley, contact adele.franks@gmail.com.

Adele Franks, of Florence, is a member of the Climate Action Now Steering Committee, and project coordinator of Rays the Valley. Lynn Benander, of Shelburne Falls, is president of Co-op Power.




Daily Hampshire Gazette Office

115 Conz Street
Northampton, MA 01061
413-584-5000

 

© 2019 Daily Hampshire Gazette
Terms & Conditions - Privacy Policy