Brookline’s solar power: slow progress and a stalled program

So far, Brookline ranks as a small player in the Massachusetts solar panel derby. Over the past four years, the state’s “carve-out” program of state solar power credits shows only 58 installations in Brookline–all but one residential and all but one rated at a modest 0.002 to 0.01 MW, peak. Total capacity shown for the town in this 4-year program is 0.36 MW, peak–an average of about 6 peak watts per Brookline resident. By comparison, the whole state of Massachusetts shows installed solar capacity of 660 MW, peak–an average of about 100 peak watts per state resident.

Brookline has two municipal installations: an array of 120 panels installed in 2007 on the roof of the Health Department building and an array of about 40 panels installed in 2010 on the roof of the Putterham branch library. Both were funded by government grants and private donations. So far, the town of Brookline has made no substantial investments. Charles “Charlie” Simmons, Brookline’s director of public buildings, did not know the rated electrical capacity of two facilities, but from the number of panels it is likely to be around 0.04 MW, peak.

Unlike large wind turbines, solar power is relatively friendly. It does not generate noise or flicker and does not tower over a landscape. Several other towns in the state have authorized or sponsored large solar installations. There are now 27 operating solar farms rated at 4 to 6 MW, peak, in Massachusetts. Most are commercial, but Barnstable, Bolton, Dartmouth and Lancaster have municipal facilities in this power range.

A town meeting action in the fall of 2012 tried to stimulate progress. Article 15, filed by Precinct 6 town meeting member Tommy Vitolo and passed unanimously, advocated “solar ready” roofs on Brookline’s buildings. The Board of Selectmen organized a Solar Roof Study Committee, which met three times from April through June of last year. Broadway Electric of Boston submitted proposals for six projects, ranging from 0.06 MW, peak, for the roof of the municipal swimming pool to 0.2 MW, peak, for the roof of the main High School complex.

Fortunately, in this case, Brookline was slow to act. According to news reports, Broadway Electric is being shuttered. Several Cape and Vineyard towns and towns in western Massachusetts were stuck with unfinished projects and may have missed deadlines to get state energy credits. Broadway Electric had been promoted to Brookline by the Metropolitan Area Planning Council. Although it is not clear that MAPC has any engineering or financial expertise with solar energy, Mr. Simmons said town staff are meeting again today with an MAPC representative, hoping to revive a stalled program.

– Beacon staff, Brookline, MA, July 14, 2014


Clarence Fanto, Broadway Electric’s struggles may leave Lenox, Lee solar plans in the dark, Berkshire Eagle, February 3, 2014

Metropolitan Area Planning Council, MAPC selects regional solar developer, February 26, 2013

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