Blog : Franklin ground zero for New Hampshire solar revolution.

By Rich | Jun 18, 2015 | in

By Michael McCordNH Solar Garden

If all goes as planned, the largest municipal solar project of its kind will go online in Franklin later this year.

The agreement between the city of Franklin and NhSolarGarden will lead to the development of portions of 40 acres of currently unused land and generate more than 10 megawatts of power annually. It could go online as early as September.

Franklin city councilor and former mayor Tony Giunta has a unique perspective. Giunta is with Nobis Engineering of Concord and his company is handling the site development of the project which he believes put Franklin at the forefront of municipal energy policy.

“Franklin has constantly been criticized for being a community that’s struggled finding an adequate tax base ever since the booming mill industry left in the 1970s and 1980s,” Giunta explained. “Franklin is showing the region, the state, the country, and the world that large solar installations are economically viable. We don’t have to wait five years from now or ten years from now.”

NhSolarGarden, founded by green entrepreneur Andrew Kellar in 2013, has continued to accelerate the development of municipal and nonprofit solar projects. NHSG has over 40 megawatts currently being developed with 25 project sizes ranging from 200 kilowatts to 10 megawatts, according to Kellar.

“New Hampshire cities and towns are among the first to seize the moment to reduce their electricity costs and to promote clean energy,” Kellar said. “The municipalities of Milton, Franklin, Hillsborough, and Antrim along with nonprofits organizations like Southwestern Community Services in Keene and the Newmarket Housing Authority have all committed to solar fields on landfills, waste water treatment plants and other public areas. Other Towns are lining up to realize the same benefits.”

The “benefits” accrue by transforming underutilized land into sources of clean energy. Kellar said project partners can reduce their electricity costs by 10 percent to 15 percent annually while signing long-term power purchase agreements (PPAs) to lock-in today’s rates in the face of rising future electricity costs. In the case of Franklin, that will mean $100,000 annually in leasing public land for the solar arrays while savings as much as $30,000 annually in energy costs at all the public buildings using the renewable energy generated.

New Hampshire is lagging behind other states and regions of the country in solar development. According to a recent report by the Solar Energy Industries Association, solar installation grew by 13 percent in 2014 with nearly 7,000 mw of new solar electric capacity installed. The SEIA also reported that solar accounted for 32 percent of all new energy created in the United States.

According to SEIA, New Hampshire ranks 31st in the country in solar development and has little to no commercial solar development in place. An estimated 7 megawatts have been installed in New Hampshire versus 600 megawatts in Massachusetts and over 30 megawatts in Vermont.

Ken Rubin, the founder and President of Golden Goose Renewables in Durham, is a financial backer of NhSolarGarden and he believes the time is right for rapid growth in larger scale solar projects.

“We believe there is going to be a coming out party when more of these projects come on line,” Rubin said. “Each of these communities is going to have a good story to tell and it will lead to New Hampshire becoming a solar state.” It also dovetails into the state’s goal of having 24 percent renewable energy by 2025.

The development is being helped by falling prices for the technological infrastructure of solar. New Hampshire Public Utility Commission policy changes and financial incentives could also increase the availability of clean energy –especially as electricity prices continue to rise. New Hampshire has the 8th highest electricity rate in the United States with rates increasing at an average rate of 7.9 percent over the past 11 years. Rates increased at an average rate of more than 11 percent across New England during the same time frame.

Kellar said that both Group Net Metering and C&I (commercial and industrial) Rebate efforts were modeled after successful programs launched in other electricity-expensive states such as Massachusetts, Vermont, Connecticut, and Rhode Island. The C&I rebates provide support to eligible projects to allow solar development to be economically feasible in communities like Franklin.

Giunta believes that Franklin will be at the forefront of a smart and practical solar energy revolution in the state. “The citizenry and political leaders agree we want to move to renewable, more localized sources of power and the most convenient and least intrusive source is solar,” he said. “Franklin has been able to negotiate financial benefit from long term lease and tax payments. We will take advantage of lower more stable electricity rates and Franklin can proclaim we are an eco-sustainable city. We’ve set a great standard and want to share it with any and all communities who care to move with us into the 21st century.”

NhSolarGarden is a green-certified Business Partner with the Green Alliance, the Portsmouth organization which connects over 100 regional green businesses with more than 4,000 green consumers.

Learn more about NhSolarGarden here.