Based on feedback I’ve received from my letter which was published on the Gazette’s website on Oct. 22, and which appeared in the Oct 26 print edition, I wanted to write a follow up.

The short of it is that the Town of Amherst should be applauded for going solar, no matter which path it chooses. I also understand that my proposal came in far too late in the process to have adequate time to be vetted properly by the Town, and that there are numerous uncertainties (including debt-financing) that would need to be addressed before moving forward, where as SunEdison has provided a straight forward path to reducing the Town’s carbon footprint and to provide a meaningful savings in the process.

However – the push to go solar doesn’t stop at our Town-owned buildings. If there was ever a town that could demonstrate not only to other communities in our Commonwealth, not to mention the country, its commitment to going green, I think Amherst is it. Therefore, I would like to propose that we investigate creating our own “community solar” project, whereby the owners of the project, whether they are homeowners, business owners, or renters, band together to create a PV array that they would receive ALL the benefits from.

There are many advantages to this method. By installing a PV array in a single, optimal location, it removes the requirement of each homeowner having a South-facing rooftop with minimal shading from surrounding trees. This means that all the residents of Echo Hill, Amherst Woods, and surrounding towns could all benefit if they so choose. Not only that, condominium owners such as those at Amherst Fields could have access to solar power despite both heavy tree-coverage and the shared ownership of their rooftops.

It is also a more cost-effective proposition to those that want to become involved than municipal ownership of a PV array. For one, residents and businesses pay taxes, and therefore would be able to qualify for the 30% Federal Investment Tax Credit. Secondly, “Community Solar” arrays provide greater benefits in the form of increased SREC production. Per state law, a land fill array has a 0.8 SREC multiplier, (it takes 1.25 MWh of solar production to create 1 SREC-II), whereas community solar has a 1.0 multiplier (meaning that 1 MWh produced by a community solar array creates 1 SREC). Lastly, on the basic of cost per watt of PV installed, a large-scale ground mounted installation should easily be 40% cheaper to build than numerous smaller roof-based projects.

Taken together, this means that the cost proposition I laid out before is even more compelling to residents. The benefit to those who participate would also be much more pronounced – rather than see perhaps a $500 reduction in their annual property tax bills, participants would see an immediate an ongoing reduction to their home utility bill, potentially far in excess of that amount on an annual basis, and would see an additional benefit from the sale of SREC-II’s generated by such a system over the 10 years that state law allows.

I have registered the domain and have reached out to an Amherst attorney familiar with Partnership Law, Real Estate Law and with experience with solar to discuss how to structure this in a trustworthy, accountable, and fair way, and would love to be a part of helping the residents of my town not only go green, but to lead the way to community solar by example. The domain will be live tomorrow, and I will begin laying out information for everyone interested to review as soon as time allows. In the meantime, if anyone would like to discuss further or get involved, please contact me via the new Amherst Community Solar website.

About John Fitzgerald Weaver

John Fitzgerald Weaver is a solar developer; known digitally as the 'Commercial Solar Guy.' As a project developer and installer, he’s sold and managed 50+ solar projects, valued over $25 million, ranging in size from 5kW to 1500kW. He’s been involved in many aspects of the solar supply chain –- as a company founder, developer, project manager, manufacturer, permit runner, salesman, contractor and financier. In his free time he tries to get away and clear his mind by climbing mountains, or more regularly by enjoying an IPA or scotch, and really loves the strange connection between politics, energy, finance, and environment in the energy world.