Montague charts out solar future

The Montague Energy Committee and Solar Planning Committee virtually hosted a solar forum on Wednesday evening. Town residents and business owners were invited to provide input on and explore ways that the draft Community Solar Action Plan for Montague could be used as a starting point for solar planning.

The Montague Energy Committee and Solar Planning Committee virtually hosted a solar forum on Wednesday evening. Town residents and business owners were invited to provide input on and explore ways that the draft Community Solar Action Plan for Montague could be used as a starting point for solar planning. SCREENSHOT

Solar panels at the end of Sandy Lane in Montague. According to River Strong, associate director of the UMass Clean Energy Extension, Montague hosts approximately 14.1 megawatts of installed solar and gets roughly 20% of its community electricity needs (90,000 megawatt hours) from its solar energy.

Solar panels at the end of Sandy Lane in Montague. According to River Strong, associate director of the UMass Clean Energy Extension, Montague hosts approximately 14.1 megawatts of installed solar and gets roughly 20% of its community electricity needs (90,000 megawatt hours) from its solar energy. Staff File Photo/Paul Franz

By DOMENIC POLI

Staff Writer

Published: 05-23-2024 4:25 PM

MONTAGUE — As the state incentivizes solar to meet its mandated Clean Energy and Climate Plan for 2025 and 2030, the town will likely see a significant expansion of solar power and proposals from developers in the coming years.

With this in mind, Montague’s Energy Committee and Solar Planning Committee held a virtual forum on Wednesday night, where residents and business owners were invited to provide input on and explore ways that the town’s draft Community Solar Action Plan could be used as a starting point for solar planning. River Strong, associate director of the UMass Clean Energy Extension, delivered the vast majority of the information at the forum emceed by Sally Pick, the Montague Energy Committee’s co-chair.

“Solar power plays an essential role as one of our state’s many ways to meet our mandated 2050 net-zero climate emission targets. It not only provides clean, reliable electricity, but also local careers,” Pick said. “In addition, it has the potential to lower the energy burden of low-income residents who pay the highest percentage of their income for utility costs.”

The comprehensive draft plan includes suggested locations that might be best for solar installations based on what residents prefer and on potential sites for larger solar arrays. It was crafted by Victoria Haskins and Caroline Williams, undergraduates at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.

Montague reportedly has many multi-family housing units that would be particularly good locations for solar, as they tend to have larger rooftops. With Montague being a historic farming community, there are also some residential properties with large barns that could accommodate solar panels.

Because Montague has a great deal of land mapped as important habitat or as being permanently protected, it is difficult to identify large parcels that are appropriate for large-scale solar development. However, sections of Taylor Hill Road could be of interest for solar development if the grid was built out in that area, and the solar development south of Turnpike Road could be expanded.

Strong explained Montague has substantial solar installed already and will likely see much more due in part to the cost having fallen rapidly in recent years. He mentioned the federal Inflation Reduction Act that was signed into law by President Joe Biden allows non-taxable entities to take advantage of 30% federal tax credits. There is also the possibility of new financing for solar from the state’s new green bank, the Massachusetts Community Climate Bank, which is the first of its kind in the United States.

Strong said Montague hosts approximately 14.1 megawatts of installed solar and gets roughly 20% of its community electricity needs (90,000 megawatt hours) from its solar energy. According to his information, Montague’s total community electric needs will likely double as more electric heating systems are installed and electric vehicles are purchased.

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There is a bill in the state House of Representatives that aims to expand access to a modern grid. Adoption would limit the amount of time electric utilities are allowed to interconnect solar and energy storage and establish a cost framework for grid upgrades with uniform fees based on the capacity of the solar. It would also create a permanent clean energy ombudsperson to advocate for improvements to interconnection processes.

Strong reported that Montague has about 290 residential systems, totaling 2 megawatts. The UMass Clean Energy Extension conducted a survey and 88% of respondents indicated they felt “positive” or “very positive” about residential solar on roofs and 78% in residential yards. Also, 53% of those who are currently without solar are interested in a solar array. Average household electricity use is expected to double by 2050, and approximately 68% of residential properties likely have potential for household solar.

While there is general support in Montague for solar development near major roads, there is strong opposition to development on forests and most natural land types.

“To reduce the potential impact that solar could have on natural lands, it is essential that solar be coupled with robust efforts to reduce our energy use through weatherization of existing buildings and highly energy-efficient new construction,” Pick said. “This could lower the state’s anticipated increases in electricity demands and solar needs as we move away from fossil fuel heating and transportation to adopt much more energy-efficient heating and cooling with geothermal and other heat pumps and drive more electric vehicles.”

Montague’s Community Solar Action Plan can be viewed at tinyurl.com/MontagueSolarPlan.

Reach Domenic Poli at: dpoli@recorder.com or 413-930-4120.