City has strong reaction to sale of solar field

·3 min read

GARDNER — Ownership of the Mill Street Solar Project is changing hands.

The solar field, which provides power to the city as well as four local nonprofits, has been sold by BlueHub Energy to Sunwealth, a clean energy investment firm.

Four local organizations, including GAAMHA Inc. and the Heywood Wakefield Commons assisted living facility, have saved more than $350,000 combined on their electric bills by utilizing solar power from the project, according to an announcement by officials on Jan. 25.

“Our participation in this solar program has been good for us, in that we had saved money on our utility bills and didn’t have to commit space on our roof to solar panels,” said Thomas McMullen, executive director of Heywood Wakefield Commons.

“The savings provided by BlueHub’s solar energy directly improves services to the disabled individuals in our developmental services program, the men and women battling substance abuse in our residential programs, and the seniors and others utilizing our transportation services,” said Tracy Hutchinson, president and CEO of GAAMHA.

The Mill Street Solar Project in Gardner has been sold by BlueHub Energy to Sunwealth, a clean energy investment firm.
The Mill Street Solar Project in Gardner has been sold by BlueHub Energy to Sunwealth, a clean energy investment firm.

Energy produced by the solar array is counted in virtual net metering credits, which are applied to the customers’ utility bills, according to officials. Since the credits are sold by project owners at a below-market fixed price, the organizations that purchase the credits save money on their utility bills. As part of the sale, Sunwealth will extend the net metering contracts for 10 additional years, guaranteeing that the customers’ electric bills remain stable for the next 12 years.

City officials welcomed news of the sale and said the solar project has also provided significant financial benefits to the community since it first went online eight years ago.

“We receive a substantial payment from the solar panels annually,” said Mayor Michael Nicholson, who explained that the city receives $17,500 a year in PILOT (payment in lieu of taxes) from the panels. “And now with the sale, we’ll also be receiving property taxes with it. The PILOT is for the excise tax on the panels, and the property taxes are for the real estate underneath them.”

Nicholson said the annual amount taken in by the city is enough to pay for some clerical staff salaries and office supplies.

Four local organizations have saved a combined $350,000 on their electric bills by utilizing power from the Mill Street Solar Project in Gardner.
Four local organizations have saved a combined $350,000 on their electric bills by utilizing power from the Mill Street Solar Project in Gardner.

“We really do benefit from that field,” he said.

City Councilor Ron Cormier, who is chairman of the Gardner Redevelopment Authority, said he is looking forward to continuing the city’s public-private business relationship with Sunwealth.

“The good thing about the solar project is that whatever revenue the city gains, there’s very little expense on the city side,” Cormier said. “We don’t have to maintain roads, we’re not providing school services, we’re not even providing water and sewer, really. It’s rather passive use of the land, and we’re being green by encouraging these types of projects.”

BlueHub transformed what was a barren brownfield site into a solar field sporting a 3,287-panel, one-megawatt ground-mounted solar array in 2014. The system generates 1.2 million kilowatt hours per year, enough to serve 165 homes, according to officials.

“We developed the solar system and worked in partnership with the city of Gardner to get the panels up and running,” said DeWitt Jones, president of BlueHub Energy. “Now that the system has been operating and mature, we have been able to ensure long-term benefits to our customers by selling the system to Sunwealth. This has been a very successful endeavor for BlueHub, and the sale to Sunwealth, an experienced and mission-aligned manager of solar projects, is a positive development for all involved.”

Sunwealth has developed and financed more than 500 community-based solar projects, providing clean energy, savings, and green jobs in underserved solar markets in Massachusetts and beyond, according to company officials.

“The Mill Street Solar Project demonstrates how community solar can bring meaningful savings to organizations providing services in our communities, while delivering clean energy to the grid,” said Jon Abe, chief executive officer of Sunwealth. “We are proud to acquire this project from BlueHub and ensure that these economic benefits continue to accrue to the communities that need them most.”

This article originally appeared on Gardner News: BlueHub Energy sells Gardner Mill Street Solar Project to Sunwealth

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