Solar farm company promises savings for residents

The former landfill off Brimbal Avenue in Beverly where a community solar farm will be built.

BEVERLY — It sounds like one of those too-good-to-be-true offers — no cost to join, a guaranteed discount, annual savings. And, oh yes, a limited time offer of a $100 bonus.

That's how a company is pitching its effort to recruit residents to join a community solar farm that will soon be built in Beverly.

BlueWave Solar is getting ready to build the solar farm on the former landfill off Brimbal Avenue. Under an agreement with the city, BlueWave will lease the site for $2.7 million over 20 years and pay $1.2 million in lieu of taxes.

The city will also purchase energy credits from the project at a 15% discount, which Mayor Mike Cahill has said will save the city about $1 million in electricity costs over 20 years.

Now the company is looking for residents to join the project as well. BlueWave is seeking about 500 homes to sign up, with Beverly residents getting the chance to join before anybody else.

BlueWave says residents can sign up at no cost, and get a $100 bonus if they do so before March 31. As subscribers, BlueWave will sell them solar credits at a guaranteed 10% discount. Residents can then use those credits to reduce their National Grid electric bill.

The company says will save the "average subscriber" 8% to 9% on annual electric costs.

Myles Fish, BlueWave's director of customer enrollment, said the company will determine how many credits a resident receives based on their typical energy use. Fish said there are times, especially in the summer, when you could receive more credits than you need to pay your monthly bill. But you can apply those credits to a future bill when you need them.

Residents sign up for 20 years but can cancel anytime without penalty, according to BlueWave.

BlueWave says the finances work for everyone involved due to incentives provided by the state. Fish said the company does not guarantee savings for people who join, but said it's "highly unlikely" they would lose money on the deal.

"We don't say savings are guaranteed because there are hypotheticals you could come up with and we want to be as transparent as possible," he said. "But it's really unlikely that that could happen."

The number of community solar farms has grown in Massachusetts as the state offers incentives to promote clean energy. BlueWave Solar, which is based in Boston, has built about 50 of them. Last year it was ranked by the Boston Business Journal as the state's fastest-growing company, with reported revenue growth of 923% between 2015 and 2018, according to the company.

The state of Massachusetts does not have consumer protection regulations geared specifically toward the solar industry. But a spokeswoman for Attorney General Maura Healey said her office held a workshop with solar industry representatives in October and challenged them to develop a code of conduct for the AG's office to consider. Another meeting is scheduled for April.

Ben Hellerstein, the state director for Environment Massachusetts, said community solar farms are a good option for people who can't put solar panels on their roofs, or renters who don't own a home.

"It's always important to take a close look at whatever it is you're signing up for," Hellerstein said. "But in general, over the last 10 years or so literally thousands of people across Massachusetts have switched to solar energy because it's good for the environment, for public health and for reducing pollution. It's also saving them money as well, so it's a win-win."

The Beverly solar farm would include 12,250 panels covering 14 acres and will produce 6 million kilowatts, enough electricity to power more than 500 homes for a year. BlueWave said it would reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 3,270 metric tons, the equivalent of taking nearly 800 cars off the road every year. The energy produced by the Beverly solar farm goes into the grid, not directly to subscribers.

The city of Beverly will purchase 35% of the farm's output, with the balance going to community subscribers, the company said.

Fish came to the Beverly Farms library on Tuesday night to make a presentation at a meeting of the North Shore 350 clean energy organization. Beverly resident Carole Rein said she is interested in signing up for the solar field credits because solar panels would not work efficiently on her house.

Rein, who described herself as a climate activist, said she is more likely to sign up because the farm promotes the use of solar energy, rather than for the savings, which she said would be "small."

"But at least you're not paying more," she said.

Staff writer Paul Leighton can be reached at 978-338-2535 or pleighton@salemnews.com

Example of how it works

Your National Grid bill is $120.

You pay BlueWave $90 for $100 in solar credits.

You use the $100 in credits to reduce your National Grid bill to $20.

Your costs are $90 for the credits and $20 for the National Grid bill.

That's $110, a $10 savings off your $120 National Grid bill.

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