IPSWICH — Walking among the 160 new solar panels on the roof of Town Hall, which have been sending current to the offices below for just over a week, Town Manager Robert Markel was still amazed at how quickly they were installed.
"This was all done in July, in just one month," Markel said.
Getting funding for the panels took longer than that but was no less remarkable, according to Markel.
The Electric Department first considered the project two years ago but set it aside after concluding that solar panels would take too long to pay for themselves.
Then, a year ago, Lt. Gov. Tim Murray visited, asking for projects for stimulus funding, and the solar array was among 14 Ipswich submitted. Approval arrived this April in the form of a $150,000 Green Communities Program grant. An additional $92,000 was provided by the Ipswich Electric Department under its energy conservation program, according to Tim Henry, director of the town's Utilities Department.
The panels will provide 30 to 35 percent of the building's energy on a business day, Bill Hodge, Ipswich facilities director, told the selectmen at their Aug. 9 meeting.
Those reductions will complement $39,439 in savings realized in the past year from replacing Town Hall's more than 100 windows with new, thermal ones, and from changing the building's light bulbs from incandescent to fluorescent ones, Hodge said.
There are limitations to what the panels can accomplish. Batteries that could store unused energy cost much more than the panels, so sunlight on such off days as summer holidays cannot be tapped.
Looking out from the roof of Town Hall, however, Markel thought the future for further green energy projects looked bright. He said the town's next goal is to achieve "Green Certification," which 34 out of 351 towns in the state currently possess, and which will open the door to further grants for green technology projects.
To qualify, Ipswich needs to pass zoning amendments for quicker approval than it currently allows to renewable-energy-generating buildings and to firms conducting research and development on renewable energy. Markel said the issue will be put on the warrant at this fall's Town Meeting.