Photo by Celeste Katz Marston

Special Town Meeting seeks $10M for solar storage

April 25, 2024

By Betsy Levinson —

Voters at the May 1 Special Town Meeting will be asked if they approve of borrowing $10.4 million to build and install a storage battery sufficient to store solar energy and transform it to the town’s electrical grid.

Precipitated by the expected closing of MCI-Concord this summer, the town’s municipal light plant is responding to the prison’s projected drop in power consumption. The event will cause a surplus of solar power to be delivered to the transformer that serves about half the town, potentially causing operational problems.

To deal with the surplus, the plant proposes building a 5MW, 15MWh storage battery for the energy that would otherwise be consumed by the prison, among other reasons.

If Article 1 is approved, the battery will likely be constructed at the W. R. Grace property off Knox Trail or at the substation on Forest Ridge Road.

Interim Municipal Light Plant Director Jason Bulger said at a recent hearing that ratepayers, not taxpayers, would see an uptick in electricity rates for the first year of the loan, followed by a steady drop in rates paid to the plant.

He said a third party would be responsible for the construction and maintenance of the utility-grade storage battery.

The battery would also “allow for continued in-town solar expansion” as more homes and businesses install solar technology.

“We need the initial capital investment of $10.4 million,” Bulger said.

The Solar Implementation Task Force backed the article unanimously and is withdrawing an article on the annual Town Meeting warrant seeking $9.2 million to build solar systems and battery storage at the former landfill on Walden Street and the high school campus.

Goals of the new battery project include:

  • Protecting the reliability of the grid.
  • Allowing for the addition of solar energy systems.
  • Reducing the peak load on the grid.

The Solar Implementation Task Force and Concord Municipal Light Plant board unanimously support the article.

Bulger said the town could expand the use of solar energy at a higher rate with the larger battery. The federal Inflation Reduction Act provides solar energy funding that the town could tap into.

“I am very confident this is going to save ratepayers,” said Bulger, who also said “grid stabilization is our number one priority.”

The town plans a 15-year loan at 4% interest. 

Bulger said plans for a larger storage capacity have been “on the radar” of the municipal light plant since at least 2017.  

“The closure [of the prison] kicked it into high gear,” he said.

It would be ready for use in the fall of 2025 if approved.

Select Board Chair Henry Dane asked about the fire hazard proposed by the battery, and Bulger said the Concord Fire Department would be fully trained to mitigate it.

Hearing participant Mari Weinberg suggested preparing a map and photo of the setup for the May 1 special to help voters visualize the setup.

Select Board member Mark Howell summed up his position on the plan: “It’s about time,” he said. “This gets the ball rolling.”

Town Meeting begins at 7 p.m. on April 29 at Concord-Carlisle High School. The Special Town Meeting consideration of the battery is scheduled for May 1 at 7:10 p.m.