Brentwood Moves From Fossil Fuels Toward Solar Energy

Sep 19, 2017

Credit Thomas Kohler / Flickr Creative Commons

The town of Brentwood, which has a population of about 4,500, celebrated its transition from fossil fuels to solar energy Saturday, Sept. 16.

A public ribbon cutting commemorated the recent installation of a ground-mounted solar array that will offset nearly 100 percent of the town’s municipal electric load.

Malcolm Allison is member of both the solar and budget committees in Brentwood. Morning Edition Host Rick Ganley spoke with him by phone.

This transcript has been lightly edited for clarity.  

When we say municipal load, what does that mean exactly?

Brentwood has a number of town buildings, for example the firehouse and the town office. We have about nine accounts with Eversource [Energy], who was our supplier. And we expect that the solar generator will offset probably 75 or 80 percent of the cost of the power that we were previously purchasing from Eversource.

So these are the town buildings. The town government basically is now going to be mostly run by solar power. How did that project come about?

Well, it started back in 2016 when one of our selectpersons, Jane Byrne, it was her idea. She thought since solar is such an up and coming possibility for alternate fuel sources that perhaps we could power all the buildings in Brentwood. That was her idea. So she presented that at the town meeting in 2016. And I think the town subscribed to it, however that time did not vote for it. They voted to have more information collected. So we formed a solar committee, myself and Rob Wofchuck, who is also the chair of the conservation committee. And we went ahead and did a lot of research, and this year the town voted for it. What was a big selling point for the town is that we’re in the future going to save on the order of $17,000 to $20,000 a year of taxpayers’ money. We’re also reducing our carbon footprint as well, which is of quite a bit of interest to most citizens as well.

Sure, there’s some big benefits there. But what are the challenges that you faced in getting this project up and running?

Well, probably the biggest one was to come up with a program that the townspeople would vote for. In that, one of our objectives was that it would not cost the town any money up front.

So how did you do that?

Well, we asked the three solar providers is they would enter into a Power Purchasing Agreement. How that works is that the solar company installs the system at their expense and connects it to the grid. And then we buy all the power that is generated by them at about 8 cents a kilowatt per hour, which is about 4 cents a kilowatt per hour less than Eversource. And we promised to do that for 20 years. It’s a 20 year agreement. But after six years we have the ability to buy it out for approximately $100,000. And that is less than half the price of what it costs to install the system. It’s a 100 kilowatt system.

I was going to ask you how big is this installation. Who maintains this system going forward?

Well, the first six years of course it’s the solar power company, ReVision Energy, which is located in Brentwood. It’s a good-sized company, very well known, and they’re very qualified to do this kind of work. So they designed it. They installed it. And they will maintain it for the first six years. After that we will maintain it with our staff, or we will contract that maintenance to them. But a system like that requires very little maintenance other than mowing and making sure that the panels aren’t too dirty and that they’re all generating power properly and so on. If there’s any that need replacing due to damage or whatever then we will get ReVision to come in, and pay them to install or reinstall any components that need installation. But we think that after six years all the quote bugs will be out of that system.

Did you some pushback, some negative feedback from townspeople though, who maybe aren’t on board with this?

Not much, we have had a little bit. But not much. Everyone seems to be on board at this moment. It seems a bit late to have to change it at this point, since it’s up.