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City housing authority to reap solar power savings

NORTHAMPTON — Without installing a single solar panel, the Northampton Housing Authority is projected to save $1.3 million over the next 20 years through a new solar energy agreement.

The Housing Authority has signed a 20-year contract that will allow it to purchase energy at a reduced rate based on net metering credits tied to a 6-megawatt solar array in Monson that is expected to come online soon.

The players in the project include the Housing Authority; PowerOptions, a Boston energy-buying consortium serving nonprofits and government entities; and SunEdison, an international solar company based in St. Peters, Missouri, that is building the solar array in a Monson field. The Northampton Housing Authority will collect credits for 1.6 megawatts, while other groups in central Massachusetts will get credits for the remaining 4.4 megawatts, said Cynthia Arcate, president and CEO of PowerOptions.

Executive Director Jon Hite said the authority has been working with PowerOptions to get discounted electricity and natural gas for 15 years and he “jumped on the opportunity” to participate in this program.

“This is a good project. It will help the environment and help the Housing Authority reap about $15,000 in savings,” Hite said Monday during a press conference to announce the contract. Arcate and Northampton Mayor David J. Narkewicz also attended the session at the Joseph McDonald House on Old South Street which is operated by the Northampton Housing Authority.

As a result of the agreement, National Grid will buy solar energy produced at the SunEdison array in Monson and credit the Northampton Housing Authority accordingly for 1.6 megawatts energy. That makes up about 85 percent of the authority’s annual energy usage, which last year totaled about $343,000.

Arcate declined to specify the rate below-market value that the authority negotiated, but said it works out so the authority will keep 25 percent of the total savings and the remainder will go to the state.

For example, Hite said, if the price was $1 for a unit of energy and the authority’s net metering credits means it only had to pay 90 cents, the 10 cents in savings would be split so the authority would get an extra 2.5 cents and the state would get 7.5 cents.

In the first year, the total savings are projected to be approximately $60,000, which would net the state $45,000 and the Northampton Housing Authority $15,000.

Since the price of energy is expected to rise steadily in the future, the housing authority’s locked-in rate means the savings will increase every year. PowerOptions projects that it will save $150,000 in the last year of the 20-year contract.

Hite said the authority will reinvest the savings in upkeep of its 614 units of housing and in future renewable energy and efficiency projects. Over the last six years, the authority has invested about $1.5 million in energy efficiency projects, including installing more energy-efficient light bulbs, appliances and boilers.

Arcate said PowerOptions launched its solar program three years ago to help nonprofits from churches to universities get savings on solar energy. It shopped around and chose to partner with SunEdison, which is constructing solar arrays like the one in Monson around the state.

She said she recently read a blog post that criticized solar energy initiatives, arguing that the projects only benefit wealthy people.

“This is just proof that that is totally wrong,” she said at the McDonald House, which houses elderly and disabled individuals in 60 rent-subsidized units. “We have a half dozen housing authorities that have signed contracts for these kinds of projects.”

Hite said the savings will apply to the housing authority’s utility bill for about 500 units, although residents there will not notice any changes. Residents of Hampshire Heights in Florence pay their own utilities, he said.

Rebecca Everett can be reached at reverett@gazettenet.com.

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