Member Spotlight: Potluck Energy launches Somerville Community Solar Project
Earlier this month CABA member business Potluck Energy announced the completion of the Greater Boston area’s first community solar system, located in Davis Square. As a key partner in the development of the project, CABA co-sponsored the launch event for the project on June 17th.
What is community solar?
Community solar provides those that cannot install solar panels on their roofs the opportunity to reap the benefits of renewable energy. Community solar refers to a solar power project whose electricity is shared by more than one household in an area. Community solar is also good for businesses who want to do the right thing and be green by getting their electricity from a clean source.
There are many benefits of participating in community solar. Project participants benefit from the electricity generated by the community solar farm, which costs less than the price they would ordinarily pay to their utility. In addition to the role renewable energy provide to reducing our greenhouse gas emissions and decreasing the state’s reliance on fossil fuels, community solar can be an important driver in helping a community or government achieve socially beneficial outcomes. Some examples of these outcomes include reduced energy costs and increased energy access for low-income households, decreased localized pollution in environmental justice areas, and a more localized energy system.
Because community solar is a relatively new concept, new groups, companies and even utilities are entering this industry and building community solar projects, making it an area of high growth and innovation.
About the Somerville project
Somerville’s first community solar project, the first one in the Greater Boston area, located at 402 Highland Avenue, was launched on June 17th thanks to the collaboration of different players. The system is located on a commercial building owned by Dave Lewis, Antonia Shelzi and Julian Lewis of Avid Management that sponsored the project. Potluck Energy, who structured and co-financed the project, will oversee the distribution of the solar electricity to community members, and will manage the allocation of the membership shares going-forward. The solar system was then designed and installed by local solar company SunBug Solar.
The community solar system will allow residents of Somerville and nearby towns to receive solar-generated electricity at a discount, via virtual net metering. Virtual net metering allows customers within the Eversource territory to be assigned net metering credits produced at the solar array in Somerville.
Selected organizers and members of the community solar project. From the left to the right: Quinton Zondervan (candidate for Cambridge Council), Ted (Member), Fred (Member), Michele (Mike) Lunati (CEO, Potluck Energy), and Kessely (Member)
“It has been an absolute honor to finally bring to life a community solar project serving the Somerville, Cambridge and Boston communities; being the first project in the area, we had to work with several key stakeholders to launch it, starting from Dave, the owner of the building, who has become our biggest sponsor. Community solar is one of the best opportunities to make solar energy accessible to and affordable for renters, students and other short-term residents. It allows members to join and leave the community project without penalties, while saving on their utility bills. Moreover, it keeps the production and consumption of energy local, making sure that also its benefits stay within the community. In this case, Dave will be selling electricity to Ted, Fred and Kessely, and re-investing the profits from this project into his local business. We are rapidly moving into the future of energy.” says Michele Lunati, CEO of Potluck Energy.
While the system is already fully subscribed, interested customers can sign-up at no cost or obligation on Potluck Energy’s website to be placed on a waiting for participation in future systems.
What can you do to help promote community solar elsewhere in MA?
Massachusetts’ virtual net metering program is one of the older community programs in the country which has historically allowed the industry to flourish. However, virtual net metering is subject to the state’s overall net metering cap. This is extremely problematic, as the net metering cap is constantly hit in territories across the state creating a roadblock for the market to grow. In addition, last year legislators passed a bill that cuts the net metering compensation rate for low-income and community solar projects.
There are two bills CABA endorses that would allow the community solar market to grow.
- H2706/S1846 Rep. Mark/Senator Eldridge, An Act Relative to Solar Power and the Green Economy
- H3396/S1831 Rep. Holmes/Sen. Chang-Diaz, An Act Relative to Solar Power in Environmental Justice and Urban Communities
What you can do:
- Read CABA’s briefs on H2706/S1846 and H3396/S1831 to learn about the policies
- Call your legislator to express your concern about the net metering caps and the net metering credit rate
About the author: Kate Galbo joined CABA in September of 2015 after receiving a degree in Environmental Policy and Analysis from Boston University. Previously, she conducted research for Policy Studies Institute to help bridge the gap between sustainable development research and society. Kate has previously interned for other Massachusetts non-profit organizations. As Programs Manager, Kate focuses on engaging with our member businesses to take targeted policy action, achieve meaningful emissions reductions, and foster a sense of community.