ROOFTOP, GROUND MOUNT SYSTEM
Town of Stafford, Conn.
- System Specs | 3.45 MW
- System Production | 4,400 MWh per year
- Environmental Benefits | Eliminating: The equivalent greenhouse gas emissions from driving 7,410,973 miles in an average passenger car | The equivalent CO2 emissions from 3,299,687 pounds of coal burned | The carbon sequestered by 2,927 acres of U.S. forest for one year
The Small Town With The Big Net-Zero Dream
Stafford, Conn., isn’t a large town. Sitting pastorally 3.4 miles from Massachusetts’ southern border, it’s known primarily for the quiet life it provides for its 12,192 residents, it’s not heaven, but it’s close.
Six years ago, the residents decided to give back to the idyllic environment that surrounded them by doggedly committing to protect it. Under the watchful eye of its Energy Advisory Committee (EAC), the town put together a plan to become a net-zero town, meaning they would, as much as possible, use only as much energy to power the town as they produced on site. They quickly found that solar met their needs perfectly. It was clean, could be distributed through the town so no one property had to bear the entire burden and, most importantly, would reduce its carbon footprint.
As small New England towns are wont to do, they took their time and started small. First they installed a 10-kW array on the firehouse. Then, when that seemed to be going well, they added another 10-kW array to the library. Eventually, the townspeople realized they were on to something—and started thinking bigger.
What if there was some way to power the majority of the town’s buildings with solar power? How much could that cut their carbon output? How close could that get them to their net-zero dreams?
Once they’d made up their minds, there was no turning back. At the direction of the town council, the EAC solicited bids to build three arrays on two different sites: two 1.3 MW arrays behind the middle school and a 954-kW array on the city’s landfill. After a very competitive bidding process, the town selected the most experience company and the one they felt would be their best partner in the process —Standard Solar.
Two challenges immediately became apparent: How could the town afford to build the system on its limited tax base? And could they somehow consolidate the metering of the arrays instead of having to be billed three separate times by the utility? The town turned to Standard Solar for the answers and, fortunately, they knew just what to do.
Standard Solar’s experience in working with municipalities up and down the East Coast and around the U.S. provided them with knowledge of all sorts of funding mechanisms that can help towns pay for the solar arrays they crave. In this case, they recommended Stafford take advantage of a Tax Exempt Lease Purchase (TELP) and make use of a long-term Zero Emission Energy Credit (ZREC) contract to allow the town to own and operate the arrays outright.
To consolidate the bills, Standard Solar had another solution: virtual net-metering. Through this innovative billing structure, the energy produced by the three different arrays could be aggregated on one bill. This made it possible for the utility to credit the town for the excess energy it produced, instead of forcing each site to be credited separately. The town council agreed that these were most elegant solutions to their concerns.
In 2015, the town broke ground under the guidance of their partner Standard Solar. By October 2016, the arrays were completed and producing carbon-free electricity not long after.
“Six years ago, the town formed an Energy Advisory committee and hasn’t been the same since. In that short span, the town has gone from passing out compact fluorescent bulbs to record setting energy independence. This past fall the last 848 kW of the 3.45 MW solar system became operational bringing the town significantly closer to its commitment to reducing its carbon footprint to zero,” said Dennis C. Milanovich, Building Official and Town Engineer, Town of Stafford. “This endeavor was not without its challenges, but our partner Standard Solar along with their primary subcontractor, Electrical Contractors Inc. of Hartford, demonstrated a perseverance in the face of regulatory obstacles that proved vital to the success of this project.”
Totaling 11,096 panels, the three arrays provide enough electricity—4,400 MWh of electricity a year, in fact—to power 80% of the town’s buildings. To put that in perspective, Stafford’s collection of solar arrays eliminates:
●The equivalent greenhouse gas emissions from driving 7,410,973 miles in an average passenger car.
●The equivalent CO2 emissions from 3,299,687 pounds of coal burned
●The carbon sequestered by 2,927 acres of U.S. forest for one year
Not only that, the system is projected to save the town $4.3 million over 15 years, and $12.3 million over 25 years—figures that even the most thrifty Stafford resident must admire. Through the solar array, combined with a high efficiency geothermal heat pump system, the town is expected to save more than $24 million over 25 years as it completes the execution of its long-term energy plan and reaches its net-zero dreams that once seemed so out of reach.
“The completion of this system marks a huge milestone for the Town of Stafford,” said Scott Wiater, President and CEO, Standard Solar. “They become one of the few towns in America to undertake such a tremendous sustainability effort and become net zero.”
“As it was during the Revolutionary War, Stafford can show the rest of the United States the way to independence—energy independence,” Wiater continued. “We should all recognize and applaud the significance of this achievement.”