Marion Explores ‘Micro Grids’ for Energy

The Marion Energy Management Committee on June 26 hosted special guest Susan Butler, a Marion summer resident and Cambridge energy activist, to share her experience and ideas with the committee, specifically as they related to what she described as the “shovel-ready photo voltaic project on the capped landfill.”

Butler serves on the Board of the Greater Boston Chapter of the Sierra Club and has buildings in Cambridge outfitted with photo-voltaics and geothermal energy sources. She works with numerous organizations in and around Boston promoting renewable energy.

The committee listened with interest as she described Smart Grid technology as a possible solution to Marion’s stalled landfill energy project. Butler suggested building micro grids for smaller areas served by renewable energy on a local basis.

Committee member Jennifer Francis described a small array of 2.5 acres that “could provide power to a radius of homes.” Butler suggested that the sewage treatment plant located right next to the landfill could be a perfect micro grid project, saying, “Think of it as a pilot project so it’s not threatening [to Eversource] … and would demonstrate utility resilience in the community.”

Currently, the committee is told the energy generated on the landfill would need to be sent through the power lines to a transformer in Mattapoisett and then returned to Marion. Butler observed, “The amount of energy lost in transmission is huge!” She added that she has had great luck with Eversource in Cambridge, and was certain that the Sierra Club would go to bat for Marion with the legislature if necessary.

Committee member Bill Saltonstall underscored the amount of energy required for the sewage treatment plant, saying, “[It] is a big user, twenty-four hours a day right next to the site.”

Butler pointed out that due to Massachusetts law, crossing the public way from the landfill to the sewage treatment plant will add to the cost of the project.

Saltonstall has been working on the Mass Energy Insight program for Marion and the committee believes it needs to complete that work before they can move forward on this project.

Becoming a Green Community, which is a priority for this committee, provides the opportunity to apply for a significant amount of grant money. Saltonstall is going to follow up with the program in Dartmouth, which has received the Green Community designation, to seek assistance with the accounting end of the Insight program to expedite the application process.

Saltonstall reported to the committee that the town has received $58,000 in savings from the Future Generation Wind project since last August, saying, “It is producing at the rate of close to $100,000 of savings annually.”

Francis remarked that “June ought to be gangbusters, it’s been so windy!”

Saltonstall suggested that the Town may use some of these funds for the purchase of the LED street lighting, which requires a fair amount of capital up front.

Saltonstall expanded on the LED lighting program, reporting to the committee that he had recently received the inventory of all the streetlights in Town owned by Eversource. The Town will need to purchase the lights prior to replacing them with LED lighting, and the inventory was essential to determine the cost of the purchase.

The committee is hopeful the cost of the lights will be relatively low, since most of them are quite old and therefore have depreciated in value significantly.

Patrick Roche of the Metropolitan Area Planning Council is responsible for the LED replacement project with the state. Roche will place Marion in a group of other towns awaiting light replacement and connect it with an engineering company to help determine type and wattage of lights, among other issues.

Committee Chairman David Pierce asked if the project will be ready for fall Town Meeting, which Saltonstall affirmed, but added that he will not ask Eversource for a final price until the project is ready to move forward so that there is no loss of depreciation value.

Francis reminded the committee that one Massachusetts town successfully negotiated a purchase price of $1 per light due to the age of the lights. Saltonstall added that each light will be approximately $350 to replace, but with an energy savings of approximately $55 annually, the lights will pay for themselves within a few years.

In other matters, the committee received the welcome news from Francis that the Town had hired a new part-time town planner.

Francis reported that the Town had signed a contract that day with Gil Hilario for the 16-hour a week town planner position. Francis expressed her enthusiasm for the candidate, saying, “He’s a real go-getter. He’s young with some experience and a Master’s degree in Town Planning.”

Francis believes he will be helpful with the committee’s green initiatives. The committee responded with great interest in this news, eager to have Hilario come to their next meeting, which also happens to be his start date. Francis promised to invite him.

The next meeting of the Marion Energy Management Committee is scheduled for July 24 at 7:00 pm in the Marion Music Hall.

By Sarah French Storer


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