The program by Nexamp, a company started in 2007, has been building and operating solar farms across the Northeast for more than a decade. The opportunity for a small group of homeowners to receive part of their household power from Nexamp’s photovoltaic solar cell arrays surfaced more than a year ago in a program spearheaded by Molly Ettenborough, the city’s recycling and energy manager, and the Energy Advisory Committee.
In an agreement with Nexamp, three Newburyport schools will receive solar credits from five Nexamp community solar farms. The total generating capacity of those five solar farms is 5.94 MW, and Newburyport will eventually receive 50% of the total, or approximately 2.97 MW, according to Nexamp communication manager Keith Hevenor.
Ettenborough said two solar projects in Sutton and Marlborough are operating and allocating electricity credits to Bresnahan Elementary School and Newburyport High School. The remaining projects are expected to come online in the next few months, with credits allocated to Bresnahan, NHS and Nock/Molin School.
That municipal agreement opened the door for Nexamp to provide some of the electricity for what is now 150 households. Hevenor said not all of the homeowners are seeing the electricity credits on their bills but will in the coming months as more solar arrays go online.
In reality, Nexamp’s electricity goes into the electrical grid, so the city’s schools and local homes receive power through National Grid wires. Homeowners get up to a 15% discount on the power allocated from Nexamp’s solar farms.
“It’s important to remember that with community solar, we are not sending electricity directly to the customers,” Hevenor said.” We are sending electricity to the local grid and sharing the value of that electricity with subscribers by applying credit to their National Grid bill and then invoicing them for the value of the credit minus the fixed discount,” which is 15% for Newburyport customers.
Nexamp supplies power to Newburyport from nine of its solar farms, which are part of the company’s holdings in states as far flung as Minnesota, Georgia and Hawaii.
With news that General Motors plans to greatly expand production into electrical vehicles, power generators are working to meet the demand for electrical power to charge cars and trucks.
Hevenor said Nexamp employees run an “allocation review” at least annually on each customer to see if there are significant changes in electrical usage. If, for example, a homeowner buys an electric vehicle and charges it at home, adds a wing to a house, or sees family members leave for college, the electrical demand would increase or decrease.
Hevenor said the Nexamp customer would call the company and the electric credits could be adjusted accordingly.
“We have models we can run to see how your usage is going to change” if a homeowner buys an electric vehicle, for example, Hevenor said.
He said the goal of Nexamp is to remain privately held and to continue building solar arrays to meet demand. Last year, the company added 90 employees, bringing the total at its Boston office to more than 300, he said.
As a side note, Hevenor said Nexamp has started working with sheep farmers in some areas to keep the grass under and around the massive solar arrays trimmed.
Unlike with local lawnmower-riding landscapers the company hires at many locations, there is no risk of grazing sheep damaging wires or solar equipment.
Using local sheep has created a revenue opportunity for farmers and Nexamp isn’t “using fossil fuel-burning equipment to maintain our clean energy equipment.”
For more on Nexamp: www.nexamp.com.
Richard K. Lodge is editor of The Daily News.
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