Supporting the Community Solar Garden in Harvard (Massachusetts’ first!)

In 2012, I was approached by a group of Harvard residents, who had just participated in the very successful “Solarize Mass” program to encourage more residents to invest in solar panels on their homes. Although the Department of Energy Resources (DOER) and the town of Harvard were successful in signing up residents to install solar panels, some homes were ineligible because they were in poor locations that were not in direct sun. So, a group of dedicated residents, led by Harvard resident Worth Robbins, came together to propose a “community solar garden.” In other words, an off-site array of solar panels that would power the homes of Harvard and provide for residents that could not benefit from solar panels on their roofs.

My former Legislative Aide, Kelsey Smithwood, who was instrumental in making the Harvard Community Solar Garden a reality, joining me at the solar garden ribbon cutting ceremony in June 2014.

My former Legislative Aide, Kelsey Smithwood, who was instrumental in making the Harvard Community Solar Garden a reality, joined me at the solar garden ribbon cutting ceremony in June 2014.

The Harvard community solar garden concept was an extraordinarily important one for the state, in order to continue to lead the nation in solar installation, and ensure that all residents, regardless of where they lived, and economic circumstance, could benefit from alternative energy, as Massachusetts moves away from relying upon fossil fuels for its energy needs.

As a result of this effort, Representative Jennifer Benson (D-Lunenburg) and I began setting up meetings with the Mass Clean Energy Center (MassCEC), DOER, and the Department of Revenue (DOR), to embrace the necessary energy, building, and tax laws and regulations to make the Harvard Community Solar Garden a possibility. Both MassCEC and DOER were extremely supportive, but it became clear that state and local tax laws were a barrier to building the solar garden.

Therefore this session, Representative Benson and I sponsored legislation that would make clear that the shared community solar garden in Harvard would be tax-exempt. The bill is currently pending in the Legislature.

The Harvard Solar Garden (HSG) is a “community-shared” solar photovoltaic (PV) array at a single site, offering direct ownership among stakeholders in the communities it serves, and allowing owners to benefit directly from federal and state incentives. This model allows residents or businesses who cannot install solar modules on their own property to own solar electricity generating capacity. Members of HSG may reside in any of the 100+ Massachusetts communities it serves.

The Harvard Solar Garden was conceived as an outgrowth of the first Solarize Massachusetts pilot program by a coalition of ordinary and extraordinary folks who were unable to install solar photovoltaic electric panels on their own roofs due to shading or older roof conditions who decided to band together to create a community shared solar array that would offset their individual electric bills. Engineering and design assistance is provided by Solar Design Associates, a local Harvard business in operation since 1974, and coincidentally located directly across the street from the new solar garden.

Massachusetts has led the nation in energy efficiency and made significant progress on growing renewable energy. Before now the opportunity to utilize renewable energy has never been as accessible to so many Harvard residents and it is encouraging to see the town leading the nation in advancing local clean energy initiatives.

If you are interested in installing solar panels on your home or would like to learn more about how it works, please visit the Harvard Solar Garden website or contact info@harvardsolar.org.

The Harvard Solar Garden groundbreaking had great coverage by Nashoba Publishing. Read the story here. For more information on the legislation that I’ve filed to support alternative energy and better protect the environment, please visit my website at www.SenatorEldridge.com.

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