Concord puts together a renewable energy strategy

By Bob Kusik/
The Concord Journal
Jan 31, 2011

Concord — Around the world there is a growing awareness of the finite nature of fossil fuels and the impact that they are having on our planet’s environment. There is also a need for predictable and stable cost structures to avoid the impact of dramatic fluctuations that we have seen in the price of fossil fuels. Although these are global issues which will affect virtually all of humanity, we can act locally to do our part in addressing them. The Municipal Light Board, working with the staff of the Concord Municipal Light Plant (CMLP), has developed a
Renewable Energy Strategy for the generation of electricity that we consume in Concord. In December, this strategy was presented to the Board of Selectmen, and in February, it will be presented to the Finance Committee.

Today, 10 percent of Concord’s electricity is generated by renewable energy sources; hydroelectric, photovoltaic solar, and landfill gas, and we will add wind power to that mix. Using goals set at the state and federal level as a frame of reference, we have established our goals of 20 percent by 2015 and 30 percent by 2020. These are aggressive goals. It is unlikely that sufficient commercial sources will become available at attractive prices, so we intend to take the initiative and be pro-active.

The strategy has four components; 1) exploit commercial opportunities as they arise at reasonable prices, 2) develop utility-scale solar generation in town, 3) facilitate the development of rooftop solar in town, and 4) initiate wind power electrical generation outside of town. Worldwide interest in these sources of electrical generation is driving technological progress and manufacturing techniques, both of which contribute to a continuing reduction in cost. In fact, the electrical energy that we buy today from renewable sources is actually less expensive than that which we buy from fossil fuel generators. State and federal incentives also help to bring the cost of renewable energy more in line with those of traditional fossil fuel.

Commercial opportunities

Like many of the other 41 municipal electric utilities in Massachusetts, Concord utilizes the services of an external consultant to seek out commercial sources of renewable energy-based electricity. The consultant has been instrumental in helping us create our current portfolio and in identifying opportunities for cooperation among multiple communities. We will continue to assess new opportunities as they arise.

Utility-scale solar

Solar is at the top of the list of potential renewable energy sources here in Concord. It is generally available at those times when our demand is greatest (e.g. hottest periods of the hot days when air conditioners are all running). This is important because there are not many good options for storing electricity at this scale. Costs are dropping rapidly due to improvements in both the technology and manufacturing processes and this is anticipated to continue for some time. Meanwhile, current federal and state incentives, designed to stimulate demand and drive these cost reductions, make solar affordable now. Because of these dynamics, the strategy is to deploy a 5 megawatt array every five years for 25 years. Since the anticipated life of a solar array is about 25 years, the cycle will continue with a constant aggregate of 25 megawatt. This approach enables the exploitation of new technology as it emerges and spreads the investment. The Board of Selectmen is in the process of creating a Solar Siting Committee, the purpose of which is “…to identify preferred locations for solar installations with attention to balancing the competing land use needs in the Town and to provide a forum for the discussion of criteria for siting utility-scale solar installations on municipally owned land in Concord.”

Rooftop solar

A program is being developed which will enable residents to have a third party install and maintain a solar array on their roof. The general idea is that homeowners will be able to have solar arrays installed with relatively low initial costs, and then buy the electricity produced by the system at reasonable fixed rates for an extended period of time,

Wind power

Wind power is attractive because it can be very cost-effective. However, its production is variable, and Concord doesn’t have sufficient wind resources to power current technology economically. The strategy for wind power is not as fully developed, but one of the ideas being discussed is to invest in an ownership share of systems located outside Concord. Western Massachusetts and off-shore locations are good local candidates.

A lot more detail is available through links which you will find on the
Light Board’s Web page. Your comments are most welcome. Send e-mail to