Shelburne Energy Committee: Updates on Energy Efficiency and Solar Energy
Shelburne, New Hampshire is a town with a population of about 350 people. Within the last two years two Shelburne residents have been driving solutions to decrease town energy costs through energy efficiency and solar energy production. These projects will save the town money starting in year one. The two innovative and concerned residents that make up the Energy Committee are Ray Danforth and Michael Prange. In a 25-year forecast of electricity expenses created by Michael Prange the town is estimated to save over $700 in the first year and over $4,000 in year 25.The plot of estimated energy savings (below) shows the uncertainty in this forecast based on 12 years of data from Ray’s solar array and and the five most recent years of town power usage. The jump in savings after 20 years occurs when the loan is paid off.
Previous energy upgrades helped set the stage for a successful solar project. Earlier in 2019, the Select Board approved an LED lighting project recommended by Ray and Michael of the Energy Committee, working in partnership with Melissa Elander, North Country Energy Circuit Rider with Clean Energy NH. With Eversource covering 34% of the cost of the $4,300 project lighting upgrade, the resulting electricity savings are expected to pay for the project in four years and reduce the town’s electric bill by over $1,000 each year.
In March of this year, Shelburne voters approved a warrant article to install the solar array on the roof of the town hall to offset 100% of the electricity of the town hall. The vote gives the Select Board flexibility to review and approve plans brought forward by the Energy Committee. In the beginning stages of the solar project, the select board approved the energy committee to conduct an analysis to see if solar makes financial sense for the town. Michael and Ray surprised the town by getting back very quickly with a recommendation.
As initially proposed, the warrant article proposed allocating $20,000 to a solar capital reserve fund. Upon deliberation, the Energy Committee shifted to identify an approach that required less upfront capital while still achieving a positive payback. With current low interest very low, a 15-20 year loan can be paid with the savings that would otherwise go to Eversource. This generates positive savings starting in year one. Structuring the project this way means that the project is a revenue source rather than an additional expense to the town.
Even with that analysis it took a lot of interacting with the Select Persons and residents to convince the town. Ray had informational meetings at his home, attended all the town meetings, went to the transfer station to speak with Shelburne residents, even handing out leaflets they made. In March, I attended the Shelburne Town Hall meeting. During this meeting, there was to be a vote on whether the Shelburne Energy Committee should continue to pursue this project. When it came time to vote, Ray and Michael were unsure what the vote would be. It was a nearly unanimous vote that the town was in favor of the solar array and that the Select Board could continue this project. Ray and Michael reflect that an important part of their success was keeping the town residents, committees, and especially the Select Board informed.
Informative sessions were not the only strategic action that Ray and Michael believe helped inform the town on the benefits of solar. Michael’s forecast financial savings was created using his coding background, and he created his own simulator that used Ray’s personal 12 years of solar array data to analyze uncertainty in data. Michael’s analysis also took into account the town’s power consumption, the value of behind the meter energy use, and what would be gained by putting power back on the grid. This financial model allowed the Energy Committee to project financial savings over the next 25 years, accounting for many uncertainties and assumptions.
Some other strategies that Ray and Michael believe helped their project become favorable in their town was getting a low interest loan from a bank. Rather than looking into a power purchase agreement, they are working with a local bank to obtain a loan at less than 3% interest. The Energy Committee drafted the warrant article that was approved by the town so that it gives the Select Board flexibility to obtain financing and approve the system only if it makes financial sense for the town. The warrant article was drafted with engagement from the Select Board and Clean Energy NH. This strategy was successful. Residents who originally were hesitant about the project eventually became the people speaking up at town meetings answering questions and voicing support.
Melissa Elander is available to work with municipalities interested in energy efficiency or renewable energy projects at email@example.com.
By Emily Roscoe