Appreciating The Past, Plymouth Moves To A Renewable Future

It is a community known for its reconstruction of a colonial era sailing ship, with 4 masts and 6 sails. Its living museum tells the stories of the Wampanoag people and English colonists who created a new society, both in collaboration and in conflict. It is also a town that is expending significant efforts to gain energy savings and to reduce emissions in a series of collaborations that will coalesce toward “Making Plymouth a Green Energy Hotspot.”

The result is a reimagining of old and new, of stability and change in a world that honors history but is mindful of the necessary transition to renewable energy. Plymouth, Massachusetts, is a model town that is combining energy efficiency and conservation with development of wind, solar, and other zero emissions resources. Each of those requires an evolving internal structure with regional government efforts that address changing market conditions, rules, and regulations.

Clearly, Plymouth contains many historic properties and landmarks that provide tangible connections to the nation’s past. Renewable energy goals for a cleaner, more sustainable future might seem lofty or irrelevant for such an area rich in cultural importance. Yet a type of renaissance is taking place in this area, which tends to be more recognized for celebrating a European golden age than becoming a zero carbon community.

What did it take to set a path and timeline for Plymouth to tackle its short term and long term energy goals? It took vision. Back in 2007, Plymouth set out Energy 2020 Goals.

  • Utilize a combination of supply and demand measures to provide 100%  of municipal electricity from renewable sources
  • Achieve a corresponding reduction in emissions in line with the US Mayors Climate Protection Agreement
  • Achieve savings of millions of dollars in energy costs
  • Stimulate growth of energy related businesses, commerce, education,  and expertise

Check out some of what Plymouth — known as “America’s Home Town” — accomplished in the last 15 years in the quest to obtain such renewable energy objectives.

Plymouth Public Schools District

With 13 school facilities and over 1,350 employees, Plymouth Public Schools (PPS) serves over 8,000 PK-12 enrolled students. The district’s overall energy strategy is to derive 80% of its electricity from solar sources. A detailed conservation effort that involved the entire staff was followed by efficiency upgrades — both large capital projects and smaller utility sponsored upgrades. It has an ongoing recycling program and its newest high school was constructed to qualify for USGBC LEED Certification.

Installation: Originally, the plan was to install 8-10 smaller solar arrays on campuses across the district, but a combination of older rooftop structures and Massachusetts snow loads drove PPS and Borrego Solar to develop an alternative plan. Borrego Solar built two expansive ground mounted solar arrays on nearby private property. With net metering in the state, PPS has been able to virtually apply the solar energy produced offsite to their own utility meters. The larger array, installed in Plympton, MA, is comprised of 23,670 solar panels on land leased from Plympton Sand & Gravel. The arrays cover more than 23 acres of land, which is an area roughly the size of 18 professional football fields.

Benefits: As the off taker, PPS agrees to purchase the solar power produced at a pre-determined rate that is $.06/kWh less than what they are paying NSTAR, from the owner. This power purchase agreement directs $400K on energy annually ($8.5 million in all) — without incurring the upfront costs estimated at around $11 million. System owners cover all construction, materials, and maintenance costs and recoup their investment through the sale of electricity to PPS over 20 years.

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Graphic courtesy of Plymouth, MA Public Schools

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Graphic courtesy of Plymouth, MA Public Schools

Plymouth’s Electric Vehicle Charging Network

As the popularity of electric vehicles (EV) grows, the accessibility of electric charging stations in both private and public places gives communities like Plymouth an economic and environmental advantage. These stations provide drivers an incentive to come into spaces in the Plymouth area where they can easily charge up while shopping, sightseeing, or dining – and, ultimately, enable them to drive longer distances. The town infrastructure also gives employees of nearby companies an opportunity to seek alternative commuting options.

The 11-two port charging stations are the result of several grant programs developed by the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (MassDEP), the Massachusetts Electric Vehicle Incentive Program (MassEVIP), the Town of Plymouth’s Office of Community Development and Planning Department, and ChargePoint.

With cooperation from the private business sector and the Municipality, Plymouth’s electric fueling infrastructure system continues to expand throughout the Town. The goal is to make Plymouth the Southshore destination for EV owners throughout Massachusetts and the Northeast.

The Raffaele Road Solar Project by BlueWave

The Raffaele Road Solar Project is a 5.7 MWDC photovoltaic solar project developed by BlueWave Capital at a former sand and gravel quarry in Plymouth, Massachusetts. This project will produce 7.4 million kWh of clean power every year, with the energy being purchased by the City of New Bedford.

By reusing a sand and gravel quarry, this project fulfills BlueWave’s mission to identify brownfields, landfills, and sites impacted by industry where solar is a suitable reuse. In this case, the solar project includes site restoration of the quarry and serves to benefit neighbors and a sensitive watershed, the Eel River, recently the subject of an extensive restoration project by the Town of Plymouth. The project began construction in 2013 and was commissioned in 2014. It is among the largest solar facilities in New England.

As the project developer, BlueWave identified and secured the site, conducted feasibility studies, and acquired all development rights for the project, including the interconnection agreement and all permits. BlueWave also entered into a financing agreement with SunEdison as the financier; under the agreement SunEdison acquired the project and engaged Pro-Tech Energy Solutions for Construction Management.

The project is creating substantial environmental benefits – the 7,410,000 kWh of clean energy generated by this project each year is equivalent in terms of CO2 reductions to removing more than 1,000 cars from the road or preserving almost 3,000 acres of forest annually. In addition, the savings that New Bedford is expected to enjoy are substantial, amounting to more than $10 million over the life of the project.

Lepomis Solar Project

A large scale solar module project in Plymouth, the Lepomis Solar Project encompasses 38+ acres with 22K solar modules. The project came into being with an ambitious goal—1,600 megawatts of solar capacity by 2020. The State of Massachusetts needed to start harnessing solar power as soon as possible. Working with EDF Renewable Energy, this was the first major renewable energy project in the area.

Lepomis Solar Project is a power site with ground-mounted, fixed-tilt solar photovoltaics. This project required monitoring the installation for compliance with the engineering, procurement, and construction (EPC) contractor’s Quality Assurance and Quality Control Plan and compliance with permitted engineering design plans. On track to achieve their goal, Massachusetts is setting the standard for sourcing economically and environmentally friendly power in the states.

Plymouth Community Choice Green Option

Citizens in Plymouth can get their electricity supplied from 100% renewable sources for just pennies more a month. The Energy Switch website lists all available suppliers for Plymouth residents and businesses. Plymouth’s Community Choice Power Supply Program, listed with the town seal, offers low regional rates. Even the 100% renewable energy option is cheaper than any other choice.

While the cost of electricity from other suppliers fluctuates – Eversource’s basic rate rose nearly 50% in January – Plymouth’s Community Choice Power Supply rates are guaranteed to remain stable through October 2023.

Final Thoughts

In August, Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker signed into law an Act driving climate policy forward. The resulting omnibus bill involves clean energy workforce and economic development, offshore wind procurement, potential large scale procurement of energy storage, regional coordination of clean energy development, changes to the treatment of other clean energy resources, further adoption of electric vehicles, energy efficiency and building electrification, the transition away from the use of natural gas, and modernization of the electric distribution system to enable increased adoption of renewable energy, energy storage, and vehicle and building electrification.

Such support from the state clearly helps towns like Plymouth to pursue zero carbon community goals. Plymouth’s renewable energy achievements demonstrate how, while the past is always with us in our memories, in the physical landscape, and in the enduring ecosystems around us, policies and planning decisions can look forward so that disparate moments in time become compatible and interdependent.


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