OPINION: LOCAL AND GREEN (#10): ARHS STUDENTS CHAMPION SOLAR

Editor’s Note: This column appeared previously in The Amherst Bulletin.

Darcy Dumont

In Amherst, residents can submit a request to the Joint Capital Planning Committee for funding in the upcoming fiscal year’s capital budget. For fiscal 2021, one such request was made by Andra Rose and two Amherst Regional High School students, Seo-Ho Lee and Allison Brau. It asks for $25,000 for the town to hire a consultant to study the feasibility of municipal solar photovoltaic systems, including for solar canopies, rooftop solar, and electric-vehicle car- and bus-charging infrastructure at the Middle and High schools, and a survey of all other town rooftop and parking lot sites.

It’s not surprising that the ARHS students would be pushing such a request. Solar canopies on a school parking lot have been proposed by students at every level recently. Sixth graders at Fort River Elementary School suggested this last year in their civic literacy unit as one way Amherst could participate in the Green New Deal. Middle school students proposed this two years ago, and the ARHS Environmental Action Club and Sunrise Movement group proposed and researched the topic last year.

The recent $25,000 request got a boost last month when the Amherst Energy and Climate Action Committee unanimously approved the idea.  In addition to obtaining a conceptual design and analysis of the rooftops and parking lots in town, ARHS students and Ms. Rose included in their request an addendum with  ideas borrowed from a similar project in Newton.

These ideas include charging stations on 10 percent of the parking spaces; an electric bus-ready depot at Amherst Regional Middle School (as used in Concord); comparisons of the long-term cost savings and greenhouse gas emission reduction potential of owning versus leasing solar panels,  with consideration of Amherst’s participation in the regional Community Choice Aggregation entity; and energy data collection to help the town evaluate the performance of the solar PV system(s) and reduction of greenhouse gas emissions.

The ideas also include comparisons of different types of renewable energy systems, with and without energy storage and with vehicle-to-grid and vehicle-to-building charging, using electric school buses.

The applicants’ hope is that the consultant can finish the work in two to three months, and that work on the parking lots can be completed in the summer of 2021.

Solar development doesn’t need to mar our landscapes and countryside, and should not take up valuable playspace in a school setting. Our built environment — rooftops and parking lots — will be the focus of the applicants’ requested study.

UMass Amherst had several solar array installations installed on the roofs of five existing buildings and on new steel canopy parking structures on two existing parking lots — at the Mullins and Visitor Centers. The canopies have a 13-foot,  6-inch clear height to allow cars and trucks to park under them.

The projected benefits of the UMass solar projects include:  

*Reduction of the emissions from the ISO-NE grid by about 31,456 metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent over 20 years.

*Savings of $3.6 million in electricity costs over 20 years.

*Reduction of  campus consumption of fuel oil, natural gas and propane used to generate electric power at the UMass Amherst Central Heating Plant and avoid purchasing electric power from off-site sources.

*Reduction of the campus peak electric demand by roughly 2.2 megawatts when the ISO-NE system peak occurs. This represents a decrease of roughly 10 percent in the existing 22-megawatt peak demand that the campus currently experiences.  

*Provide year-round shade to parked cars in two parking lots.

*Provide the university with educational opportunities for UMass students in the form of student internships, career mentorship and solar presentations.

Amherst has just committed to a goal of reducing its greenhouse gases by 25 percent by 2025, 50 percent by 2030, and to be carbon neutral by 2050. To do so, we need to accelerate our climate action by focusing on energy efficiency and renewable energy use in buildings, transportation and electricity sectors.

Not only would such a solar project reduce our greenhouse gases, but it would provide inspiration to the town, especially to students who will most assuredly be in support of solarizing.

As Greta Thunberg said at the recent World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, “We don’t want these things done by 2050, 2030, or even 2021. We want this done now.”

Darcy DuMont is an Amherst Town Councilor representing District 5. Views expressed are hers and not those of the Town Council.

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