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Municipal Solar

One element of Lincoln's commitment to reducing municipal greenhouse gas emissions is sourcing energy from renewable sources. Thanks to acceleration in the viability of the solar photovoltaic market, solar technology and financing options are becoming increasingly attractive methods of supplying renewable energy to support municipal operations.

Throughout 2015–2016, a working group of representatives from Lincoln’s town administration, Conservation Commission, Green Energy Committee, and Planning Board met to review the town’s priorities and opportunities on investing in solar, and enlisted the services of Solar Design Associates (SDA) of Harvard, MA, to perform technical, siting, and feasibility analyses on 25 potential sites in Lincoln. Together, they developed a Solar Blue Print (published December 2016).


Municipal solar plans in Lincoln

After careful evaluations of a number of municipal sites, two were ultimately recommended for solar PV development as the highest potential for the near term:


  1. A ground-mounted solar installation on the landfill at the Lincoln Transfer Station, which has the potential to support up to 1 MW in annual solar generation, the equivalent of approximately 50% of the amount of energy consumed by our town buildings. This site has some land-use constraints and has undergone a landfill habitat assessment

  2. A rooftop-mounted solar installation at the Lincoln Public Safety building, with up to 45 kW of annual solar generation. This site has few or no land-use constraints.


Following this study of regulatory, financial, and siting considerations, Lincoln’s solar PV working group advises the Town of Lincoln to move forward on the installation of solar PV in these two locations to take advantage of Massachusetts’s proposed Solar Incentive Program (SIP). These are two projects we can do now on existing municipal properties where no changes to the building or land is anticipated in the long term (approximately 20 years).

Additional key findings of the solar PV working group are as follows:


  1. The Town should take advantage of opportunities and preference to locate solar photovoltaic (PV) on buildings and parking lots (i.e., the built environment) before considering developments on open land.

  2. Solar economics are complicated and depend on various federal and state tax incentives, and this environment is fluid. Incentives are decreasing so time is of the essence.

  3. Solar Power Purchase Agreements (PPAs) are a cost-effective opportunity for municipalities to purchase solar-PV-generated electricity.

  4. While removing trees to install solar PV systems may be considered environmentally neutral or even positive, the Town is not likely to support opportunities that require substantial tree removal.

  5. Future discussion needs to occur concerning the Town’s overall energy conservation targets to provide a better planning framework for these initiatives.

Ribbon-cutting ceremony for a solar photovoltaic array in neighboring Sudbury, Mass. The Town of Lincoln has been working toward installing two solar PV arrays: a 45-kW rooftop array at the Public Safety building and a 600– to 1,000–kW array on the former landfill.

Updates: A note to the town

February 1, 2024

A number of folks have expressed interest in the status of the solar projects in progress at the Transfer Station and Lincoln Schools, so I thought I’d post an update. I am the Select overseeing the Transfer Station project and I was also a member of the PPA Subcommittee that advised the School Committee on the Lincoln School solar project. For this update I also got input from Buck Creel, the Lincoln School staff member overseeing the Lincoln School solar project.                                                                                         

What solar project is Lincoln doing at the Transfer Station? After years of effort, careful negotiations with the National Park Service, discussions with neighbors on Mill Street, and a successful competitive bidding process, Lincoln is now finalizing final details of a Power Purchase Agreement (“PPA”) with the NJ based firm HESP to construct and operate a 1.4MW solar PV system for our benefit on top of the capped landfill next to the Transfer Station, which we expect to generate enough green electricity to cover the amount of municipal electricity that has historically been used by the Town net of the Lincoln School. As an added benefit to the Town, while we are doing this construction work, with the input of the Conservation Commission and the Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee, we will also construct a bikeable and walkable path connecting Mill Street to the Transfer Station access road.


What is the expected schedule for the Transfer Station solar project? We are currently working our way through the local, state, and utility permitting processes. We received Conservation Commission approval for the project in November 2023, and hope to get Planning Board approval this March. We hope to get approval from the Mass DEP by June, and from Eversource by the end of the summer. HESP will then order the equipment and begin installation, hopefully in the Fall of 2024, or Spring of 2025 at the latest. Construction is expected to take 4 months, and equipment startup one additional month. We hope to be generating electricity by the Fall of 2025.


What is the solar project at Lincoln School? The School Committee signed a PPA Agreement with TotalEnergies (previously SunPower) back in 2022 to install 1.2MW of rooftop and parking lot canopy solar PV as well as 562KW of battery storage. We expect this system to generate enough electricity to cover the expected usage at Lincoln School and thereby make the School “net zero” overall. In addition, the battery system should help us minimize the dreaded “demand charges” from Eversource that occur if our generation plus battery supply doesn’t meet our spot demand and we have to draw power from the grid at peak times. The technical approach taken in this project was somewhat novel for municipal projects in that it is “behind the meter”, meaning that a good chunk of the solar power generated by the panels is used directly by the School and is not shipped out to Eversource, and thus we do not have to pay distribution charges on that amount.


I see the solar panels have been installed at Lincoln School rooftops and carport canopies. Are they live? No, TotalEnergies has encountered a number of setbacks that have delayed the completion of this project, including supply chain issues, issues with Eversource needing to adopt new policies and procedures for our novel “behind the meter” situation, and most recently, an equipment compatibility issue between the inverters and rapid shutdown safety devices used on the project, which is the current holdup on energizing the system. None of these delays have been the fault of the Town of Lincoln, although we have done what we can to help resolve the issues quickly while protecting Lincoln’s interests.


When do we currently expect Lincoln School solar to be live? We are working with TotalEnergies now to finalize the plan for them to replace the incompatible equipment, which will be done solely at their expense. They need snow and ice-free conditions to do this work, so the schedule is weather dependent, but we currently expect the work to be completed and the system to go live in May, and possibly sooner. TotalEnergies does not collect any revenue from Lincoln for this project until they go live, so they are just as eager as we are to do so.


Aren’t we paying more for electricity from Eversource while we wait for the Lincoln School solar PV system to go live? Yes, although note that the cost to Lincoln for delays is not the full ~$500k per year we spend on electricity when sourcing solely from Eversource, it is the roughly $60-100k per year we hope to save when we replace much of the Eversource usage with PPA usage. The exact savings we might have enjoyed is not possible to calculate since we do not know exactly how much power the panels would have produced over the period.


Can we recover that extra cost due to delays from TotalEnergies? Possibly, for some amount related to the guaranteed production of the system, since we don’t have any actual production. We did negotiate for and got language in the PPA Agreement that addresses costs associated with some delays in getting the system live. With Town Counsel’s help, we are reviewing the Town’s rights, the expected dollar amount that might be recoverable, the likelihood such events will be judged to be “force majeure” and thus not be eligible for recovery, and the impact pursuing a recovery could have on what is the beginning of a 25-year relationship with this developer. Subsequently we will advise the School Committee, who will make the ultimate determination on whether the Town pursues a recovery.


Once these two solar projects are live, will Lincoln be “net zero” regarding municipal electricity use? Yes, these projects are expected to generate enough green electricity to cover our municipal electricity usage, although note that in the case of Lincoln School the sizing was done based on expected usage, and in the non-school case we are sizing while considering historical usage. Periodic reassessment of our “green coverage” will be needed. Also, new uses to the Town, such as a possible Community Center or increased adoption of electric vehicles by the Town, may require additional solar power in the future to keep the Town “net zero”.


I hope this update is useful to residents. 


Jim Hutchinson

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