The Town of Shelburne’s new energy committee is busy leading the way forward on clean energy projects. The northern New Hampshire town has a population of about 350 people. Two of those residents, Ray Danforth and Michael Prange, formed the Shelburne Energy Committee last year and are setting a high bar for what energy committees can accomplish for their communities.
Danforth and Prange, working closely with the Shelburne Select Board and the Budget Committee, are responsible for recent projects both in improving municipal building energy efficiency and in developing a renewable energy project.
Previous energy upgrades helped set the stage for these successful projects. Earlier in 2019, the Select Board approved an LED lighting project recommended by Danforth and Prange, working in partnership with Melissa Elander, a North Country Energy Circuit Rider with Clean Energy NH. Clean Energy NH staff provide technical assistance to towns and schools in implementing energy upgrades in Coös County. With Eversource (the electric utility) covering 34% of the cost of the $4,300 project lighting upgrade, the resulting electricity savings will reduce the town’s electric bill by over $1,000 each year, and are expected to pay for the project in four years.
The energy efficiency and LED lighting upgrades at the Town Hall and fire station paved the way for the next project: a 15-kilowatt solar array mounted on the roof of the Town Hall. The solar array offsets all of the electricity consumed annually by the Town Hall. These projects will save the town money starting in year one.
Prange, who has a background in computer coding, designed a financial model for the solar array to understand the savings over time. The 25-year forecast of electricity expenses projects that the town will save over $700 in the first year and over $4,000 in year 25.
Prange’s analysis drew upon his background and used data from Danforth’s existing solar array to confidently project the value of the electricity generated by the solar project into the future. The analysis looked at both the value of net-metered electricity, or extra power exported to the utility distribution gird, and the value of electricity used to power the Town Hall. Prange’s “monte carlo” model takes the risk of forecasting uncertainty into account by projecting a range of possible outcomes.
The Energy Committee drafted a warrant article to install a solar array on the roof of the Town Hall to offset 100% of the building’s energy use. An important aspect of the warrant article gave the Select Board flexibility to obtain financing and approve the system only if it made financial sense for the town.
A big part of the work of the Energy Committee involved educating town residents in preparation for the town meeting vote in March 2020. Danforth, who has a long history as an engaged citizen of Shelburne and the Coös County community, developed informational leaflets which he distributed at the town transfer station. He also hosted educational meetings in his home. On Town Meeting Day, the vote in favor of the solar project was nearly unanimous. As a result of the public outreach conducted by the Energy Committee, residents who were initially hesitant about the project ended up being the residents speaking up at town meetings in favor of the project, answering questions, and voicing support.
Once the financial analysis made clear that solar was a good deal for the town, the Select Board worked with a local bank to obtain a loan at less than 3% interest. Given current low interest rates, a 15-year loan can be paid with the savings that would otherwise have gone to Eversource to pay for electricity. 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.
The 15.372 kW AC PV system was installed in July by 603 Solar out of Stratham, NH. The LED lighting projects were completed by Energy Management Consultants, Inc. Ray and Michael reflect that an important part of their success was keeping the town residents, committees, and especially the Select Board informed and engaged throughout the process.
Emily Roscoe works for Clean Energy NH as the North Country Weatherize Coordinator for Coös County.