The closure of MCI-Concord has put the town's solar plans on the hot seat. Photo by Celeste Katz Marston

MCI-Concord closure contributes to Special Town Meeting call on solar

April 2, 2024

By Celeste Katz Marston — 

Before Concord even kicks off its upcoming Town Meeting, it’s already scheduling a special Town Meeting — in part thanks to the imminent closure of the state prison. 

Town Meeting is scheduled to begin on Monday, April 29.  

Warrant Article 33 asks voters to authorize borrowing up to $9.2 million for design and construction of solar energy systems with battery storage in two locations: the former landfill at 755 Walden Street and Concord-Carlisle High School.  

But the shuttering of MCI-Concord is putting the plan on the hot seat. 

Chief Technology Officer Jason Bulger, who’s also interim director of the Concord Municipal Light Plant, explained the quandary to the Select Board Monday night.  

“We find ourselves in a situation where we have over time built a lot of solar saturation, which is to say more solar than at times our system really wants to have on,” Bulger said.  

“If we go [above] a certain threshold with solar, when we don’t have enough load, the current power protection devices we have in place will not work correctly,” he continued. “That can lead to damage to the transformers or to the grid or shut off the power in some areas.” 

Prison unplugged 

MCI-Concord has been a source of steady demand for electricity: Prisons don’t close on weekends or holidays. Once the lockup, with its wastewater treatment plant, goes offline, it will cease to use all that juice. It’s not clear how long redeveloping the site could take. 

Every Concord location that receives CMLP power through two transformers from Eversource is connected to bus 1 or bus 2 to draw energy. Source:

With the West Concord prison slated to close in June, “we expect the load to drop significantly on that side of town where that transformer is,” Bulger said. A possible solution: “Building a large battery on that side of the town.” 

Article 33, however, is too specific about the locations of the new solar construction to allow for borrowing to set up a battery somewhere else. 

Meanwhile, both the landfill and the high school are in a zone that faces fewer critical power issues than the zone in which MCI-Concord sits. 

The Special Town Meeting would focus on a new warrant article that would allow CMLP to borrow money to build a battery in the same zone as the prison.  

“The primary benefit [and] why it needs to happen sooner than later is because of the stability of the grid,” Bulger said. “It also allows us to deal with the loss of MCI-Concord electrical demand, as well as continue to add solar.” 

MCI-Concord is slated to close as soon as June. Photo by Ken McGagh for The Concord Bridge

Solar shakeup 

Select Board member Terri Ackerman said the Solar Implementation Task Force had been “doing some great work” — but things suddenly changed with the announcement of the prison closure, which came with little if any advance local notice.  

“The state is kind of putting this unexpected thing in front of us, which is going to end up costing ratepayers some money and some stress,” Ackerman said. “Maybe it’s just more a comment for the future MCI task force, but we’re also hearing from the water people that there’s going to be a lot of costs there.” 

Deadpanned board Chair Henry Dane, “Well, maybe something that we could put on this Special Town Meeting warrant would be a secession from the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.” 

Barring that, “What we should do is make it clear that the reason for this Special Town Meeting is to create an article that is more flexible,” said board member Mark Howell.  

“It’s nothing that would stop CMLP using resources that they have on hand right now and installing the battery anywhere in town that it wanted to,” he said. “But the problem is it needs to borrow money for doing that.” 

Article updates 

The solar situation led the Select Board to approve inserting the special session into the scheduled third night of Town Meeting, Wednesday, May 1, at 7:10 p.m. 

Notice of the new article will have to go out to Concord voters, and the Finance Committee will have to hold a hearing.  

Town Moderator Carmin Reiss provided further updates on the Town Meeting lineup, including: 

  • The FinCom’s decision not to move Article 14 in relation to free cash. 
  • The School Committee’s withdrawal of Article 21, a request for $2.34 million for a bathroom building at the CCHS playing fields.  
  • Withdrawal of Article 41, a proposal from the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Committee to review the charges of the Historical and Historic Districts Commissions. 
  • Plans to schedule a “high interest” discussion of the MBTA Communities bylaw for 7:15 p.m. on the second night of Town Meeting.