Mount Trashmore Goes Green

The September 2012 groundbreaking for the solar farm at the old landfill on Westford Street.

The September 2012 groundbreaking for the solar farm at the old landfill on Westford Street.

The six-acre solar farm upon the hill that once served as the city’s landfill has begun producing electricity. An initial 333kW has been permitted to be put on line, City Manager Bernie Lynch’s office announced today.

All design, construction, operation and maintenance costs for the solar farm are covered by Framingham-based energy services company Ameresco.

In return, Ameresco will provide the city with discounted electricity from the panels over the next 20 years; then the city will retain ownership of the array.

At the September 2012 groundbreaking of the solar farm, City Manager Bernie Lynch said repurposing the site will save the city $1.5 million to $2 million over the next 20 years.

Once complete the landfill site will include 1.5 megawatts solar array producing clean electricity. When fully operational and combined with existing installations, solar will supply 6% of the City’s electricity usage, half of which will be provided by the landfill installation.  Total electricity used by the City last year was 43.4 million kWh.

Ameresco 002 “This innovative project exemplifies the progress we have made to make Lowell an energy efficient community and an example of what can be done to reduce energy costs, improve efficiencies and reduce carbon emissions,” City Manager Bernie Lynch said in a press release.  “It is a remarkable re-use of the City’s former landfill site and we look forward to finding new opportunities to utilize sustainable approaches to reduce our energy costs along with our carbon footprint.”

Ameresco has invested in solar panel projects throughout the city including the landfill, the Reilly, Shaughnessy and Pawtucketville Memorial elementary schools, the Butler Middle School and Lowell Memorial Auditorium, as well as the Water Utility headquarters on Pawtucket Boulevard and the Wastewater treatment plan on First Street.

In late 2008, after entertaining proposals from six firms Lynch entered into a 20-year performance contract with Ameresco, aimed at increasing energy efficiency and saving energy costs.

In April 2010, the City Council, in a 7-2 vote with Councilors Bud Caulfield and Rodney Elliott in opposition, approved the borrowing of $21 million to fund a wide range of energy efficiency projects impacting 28 schools and 19 city facilities by replacing roofs, installing new windows, energy-efficient heating systems and instituting conservation measures.

The $21 million loan is paid back by the $1.5 million in annual savings brought forth by the project, resulting in no cost to the city’s taxpayers and leaving the city with sustainable buildings, a much smaller carbon footprint and a 25 percent smaller energy bill.

The project is anticipated to save the city $43 million over the next two decades, as well as the equivalent of 6,158 tons of carbon dioxide annually, which is equivalent to taking 1,023 cars off the road for one year.

Ameresco 004At the groundbreaking, Mayor Patrick Murphy, who has championed green projects and initiatives since joining the City Council in January 2010, said the project will leave a “lasting impact,” and credited the Lynch administration with working the Ameresco to “get the best deal possible for the city.”

Looking up at the mountain that is the capped landfill, Murphy stated Lowell will continue to “be a leader in sustainability,” and harkened back to the words of John Winthrop, the state’s first governor who said “we should be a city upon a hill.”

“Lowell is a can-do city with a vision; that is what distinguishes Lowell from many other communities we work with,” Jim Walker, Ameresco’s director of solar grid-tie projects said at the groundbreaking, singling out then-CFO Tom Moses and Procurement Officer Michael Vaughn for their cooperation in making the project a reality. “They are people who are dedicated to the community, who have a vision for the community.”

The city has received several awards for the Ameresco project to date including:

The 2012 New England Region Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy Project of the Year from the U.S. Department of Energy.

A $129,000 Green Communities grant, a competitive grant for energy projects in schools.

The 2011 Municipal Leading by Example Award.

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