A new program to build out solar power in Newton was unveiled at last week’s Harvest Festival. The Newton Solar Challenge is a public-private partnership among the City, Green Decade Newton, and BarnRaise Energy, a Newton-based renewable energy startup. This program comes on the heels of two previous solar programs in Newton (described in the latest Green Decade newsletter), which together have installed nearly 400 kilowatts of solar energy capacity on Newton roofs. Add to that the 685 kilowatts of power the city has installed at Newton North, Brown, Countryside, and Memorial Spaulding schools, and we’ve got over a megawatt of solar capacity in the city now, equal to the electricity consumption of hundreds of homes.
But Newton has more than 30,000 single family homes. One of the challenges for Newton in scaling solar up is, ironically, its trees. Many households (like ours) are too shaded for panels – and that’s a good thing, as houses benefit from shading in summer by a reduced need for air conditioning. But maturing community solar business models and renewable microgrid technology are beginning to open up new ways in which residents can invest in solar. Community solar uses shared public or private spaces to generate and distribute solar energy. Renewable microgrids upend the traditional vertically integrated utility model of resource delivery, democratizing electrical, economic, and political power at a community scale. Microgrids and community solar allow you to invest in and benefit from renewable energy even if you can’t install solar on your rooftop. While the Newton Solar Challenge is not yet focused on these larger scale community solar projects, these opportunities are probably not far off.
Once upon a time, Newton had such energy independence. In previous musings, I suggested some local community hydropower and solar possibilities. Where else are there places in Newton suitable for community renewables?