North Shore Community Energy Strategies

Last week, MAPC brought together residents of Salem, Swampscott, Hamilton, and Wenham at Swampscott High School to discuss strategies to help them achieve their towns’ clean energy goals. MAPC had initiated the four communities’ applying together to the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center Community Energy Strategies program, and MAPC has been supporting the communities in helping stakeholders to zero in on the particular energy strategies that are of the most interest and are the most feasible to the four communities.

Experts from the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center, Department of Energy Resources, and Meister Consultants Group were all on hand at the meeting last week, ready to delve into more detail on the three topics that have been identified as of particular interest to the communities: anaerobic digestion, community solar gardens, and renewable thermal.

  • Anaerobic digestion is a biological process in which organic material like food waste is used to create energy. Hamilton is already collecting residential food waste and composting it at Brickyard Farms, and they are moving forward on building an anaerobic digester on their closed landfill. Residents expressed interest in a regional partnership, in which the other three towns would send food waste to Hamilton and purchase power at a lower rate.
  • Renewable thermal includes geothermal, air-source heat pumps, pellet stoves, and solar hot water. These are especially cost-effective if you currently heat with oil, propane, or electricity. Renewable heating systems are generally more of an up-front investment than fossil fuel systems, but incentives such as 0% financing, tax breaks, and rebates are available, and long-term cost savings can be substantial.
  • Community shared solar is an important part of the solar conversation, because 75% of residents can’t put solar on their own roofs because they’re shaded, old, or part of a condo. Virtual net metering allows people to get the financial benefits of a solar array as long as they’re in the same utility service territory and load zone. As many as 20-40 people can be supported by a 100 MW solar array on a quarter acre. In Massachusetts, community solar has already been developed in Harvard and Brewster. This is of particular interest to Salem and Swampscott, as they are currently taking part in MassCEC’s Solarize Mass program.

The completed energy plan is expected in April, at which point MAPC, in partnership with MassCEC, Salem, Swampscott, Hamilton, and Wenham will turn our attention to implementing the projects discussed.

–Brenda Pike, MAPC Clean Energy Intern