I had the pleasure of attending the Harvard, Mass. Solar Garden ribbon cutting and grand opening on June 27. The Harvard project is the first community shared solar project to go live in Massachusetts. As Ruth Silman, a Harvard resident who worked as the project’s pro bono lawyer, said, “this is the true story of perseverance, passion, and vision.” The Harvard Solar Garden, an approximately 294 kW project, provides 41 residents and six small businesses with sustainable, clean energy. Turning the project on has been three years in the making as the Harvard team faced several legal, regulatory, financing, and zoning challenges.
The town’s journey to interconnection started in 2010 when it applied and was designated as a Green Community under the 2008 Green Communities Act. In 2011, Harvard became one of the pilot towns in the Solarize Mass program through a separate application process. The program works to reduce the cost of small-scale solar photovoltaic (PV) systems, while substantially increasing the adoption of the technology. Prior to the Solarize Mass program, less than 1 percent of Harvard properties had solar. By the end of the program, the town had installed 400 kW, bringing solar to close to 5 percent of the town’s properties.
However, there were still many Harvard residents who wanted solar on their homes and were unable to get it due to shading, sloping, or structural barriers. Worth Robbins, a retired Harvard resident was one of these people. Worth felt committed to finding a way for anyone who wanted solar to have it because, as he said at the ribbon cutting event, “it is just the right thing to do.”
The idea emerged to create a community shared solar system in which Harvard residents or local businesses could own solar electricity generating capacity and benefit from the same incentives as owners of on-site PV. Robbins would become the leading force behind a dedicated team of Harvard residents and government officials committed to supporting clean energy on the local level.
Steve Strong, a Harvard resident and president of Solar Design Associates, worked with his team to design and install the system. Silman, a partner at law firm Nixon Peabody focused on climate change, provided pro-bono counsel. Solar garden member Karl Schwiegershausen provided financial oversight and CPA Rick Herlihy of the accounting firm Stowe & Degon provided accounting and tax advice. Enterprise Bank, a regional lender, worked to provide project financing for those garden members in need of additional funding to participate in the project.
The community soon partnered with local and state officials. The town planning board worked to overcome permitting difficulties. The Department of Energy Resources provided guidance to ensure project participants could take advantage of SRECs, a market-based incentive program designed to support residential, commercial, public, and non-profit entities in developing new solar electric capacity across the Commonwealth. The MassCEC offered continual support and provided additional funding through the Commonwealth Solar II Rebate program. Senator Jamie Eldridge and Representative Jennifer Benson, the town’s state legislators, worked to address taxation roadblocks, providing constant support and working on energy legislation to help address Harvard’s challenges.
The project is now fully interconnected and producing local clean energy. For the Patrick Administration, it is satisfying to see these projects move forward as they address the nexus of policies, programs and goals (the Green Communities Act, Solarize Mass, the Governor’s goal of 1600 MW of solar capacity by 2020).
DOER congratulates Harvard on its perseverance and success, and on its well-deserved interconnection of this important project. We look forward to continuing to work to make more of these opportunities available to Massachusetts residents.
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