Proposed Solar Canopy Over Westwood High School Parking Lot Could Increase Town's Energy Independence and Lower Electric Costs

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Image courtesy of Westwood Environmental Action Committee. This rendering shows the proposed solar canopy in the Westwood High School parking lot. Solar panels facing the sky also provide shade and shelter from rain for the vehicles parked below them.

Thanks to the Westwood Environmental Action Committee for contributing this article to Westwood Minute.

The Town of Westwood spent over $1 million last year to keep the lights on and computers humming in our municipal and school buildings. About half of that electricity was generated by renewable energy.

The Town projects that non-renewable electricity costs will likely rise by 40-50% by 2027. Electricity needs are also expected to increase as we finish our new Hanlon School (all electric but no natural gas), and move away from fossil fuels to the degree possible in other municipal facilities.

To avoid this future financial impact, and to meet our 2020 Comprehensive Plan goal of powering our municipal buildings with 100% renewable energy, Tom Philbin, our Town Energy Manager, has proposed a Phase 2 Solar plan in consultation with other Town officials. Like the completed Phase 1 solar program, Phase 2 features NO up-front costs to the town, while offering us greater future energy independence and predictable costs. The proposed Phase 2 would get us to greater than 75% renewable energy for our school and municipal buildings, based on current usage.

The proposed anchor project of Solar Phase 2 would put the sun’s rays that fall on the WHS parking lot to work, in the form of a solar canopy. This would supply more than half of the clean energy of the whole Phase 2 project, which will not be economically feasible without it. Other arrays may be sited on the Thurston roof, and in the Senior Center, Town Hall and Police Dept. parking areas.

Some highlights of this Phase 2 project:

  • There will be NO COST to the Town. (yes you read that right) Ameresco, a local solar developer, would own, operate and maintain it for 20 years, selling us back the power at a low fixed rate.
  • No parking spaces will be lost, and no trees cut down.
  • Cars will stay cool in the summer, and snow free in the winter.
  • Cost and greenhouse gas emissions savings will be significant.
  • The project design and timeline have been developed to accommodate school, summer and town programs.
  • All other questions raised about the High School canopy by the School Committee at their June meeting were addressed at the Sept. 9 School Committee meeting. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=73Fuc7hz16g&list=PL1-oG8l6PVYYMAce4OwUDT5lqyZzwqNGD 1:17:39)

Next steps include Select Board and Planning Board reviews and approvals. Depending on approval timing and other factors, the arrays could potentially be installed during the summer of 2023 or 2024.

The Westwood Environmental Action Committee (WEAC) will be hosting a virtual community engagement session on Solar Phase 2 on Wednesday, October 12, 2022 from 7:00 - 8:00 p.m. Speakers include:

  • Tom Philbin, Town Energy Manager
  • Lemma Jn-baptiste, Director of Business & Finance, Westwood Public Schools
  • Representatives from Ameresco, the local cleantech integrator and renewable energy asset developer that completed Phase 1

Login information for the session can be found on the town website at https://www.townhall.westwood.ma.us/Home/Components/Calendar/Event/2068/16?toggle=next30days

We hope you will attend to learn how Westwood can control its energy costs and help provide a better future for our students as they become adults in a warming world. Not to mention staying dry if it rains on voting day!



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