On January 8, 2017

A City Powered By Solar?


With about 13,000 residents, North Adams is one of the smallest cities in Massachusetts, yet, as of September of 2015, it is now 100 per cent powered by solar energy.

For North Adams mayor, Richard Alcombright, it was an exercise in perseverance. Perched on a 170 acre parcel, the landfill on E street now covered with 60,000 solar panels and producing 3.5 megawatts of energy, was doubted from the start. “Many said it would never happen,” states Alcombright.

Yet, with no upfront cost to taxpayers – the panels were installed through a lease arrangement – the project has cut the city’s electric bill by 42 percent. This equates to a savings of roughly $378,000 per year.

The project also offsets 3,000 tons of carbon yearly, and with three separate systems running powers the City Hall, libraries, streetlights, state-owned buildings, school, and a city operated skating rink.

All at no cost. The North Adams powered by solar project was executed through a 20 year purchase agreement with Syncarpha Capital, a New York- based private equity firm, and built by San Diego-based Borrego Solar.

With Massachusetts setting the trend in solar powered cities – the state also ranks fourth in solar installations throughout the country – more Massachusetts cities are looking to solar. “The town of Adams has a solar array and are looking at more currently I believe,” Alcombright said. “There are discussions now in Williamstown about solar. It’s a testament to our past in a way those who first came here utilized our rivers to generate power and now this city and greater region have come full circle through the utilization of sun and the wind behind us which is another powerful message.”

Yet Massachusetts is only partway to its goal. Now at 900 megawatts, the state’s goal is 1,600 megawatts. According to State Senator Ben Downing, “The transition away from one, two, three, four or five big energy generating sites to tens of thousands of smaller renewable distributed sites across the grid and throughout the region all of which are allowing us to capture the benefit of those investments and also making our grid more resilient and reliable over time,” said Downing.

Resilient and reliable – not bad goals for a city’s energy system. 

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