Launch Slideshow

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Stimulus success story

Stimulus success story

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    The Chelmsford (Mass.) Water District serves 26,000 customers on a $5.3 million annual budget. Managers expect 2,300 photovoltaic panels to supply more than half the energy their 3-mgd treatment plant needs every year. Photos: MassDEP, Division of Municipal Services

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    Connector boxes collect the DC current from groups of panels and send it to the inverter box to be converted to AC power.

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    FAST-TRACK TIMELINE

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    The inverter converts the solar DC power to AC power that is routed back to the grid.


CUTTING NEED FOR TRADITIONAL ENERGY IN HALF

“Using the revolving-loan program with design-build was an ideal way to disperse the funds because we had so much experience with the bidding language, contracts, and getting contractors and cities together to move things forward quickly,” says Patricia Arp, Green Program revolving-loan coordinator for the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection. (See timeline sidebar.)

Some pilot projects experienced difficulties with utility interconnections and unexpected shading concerns, but for the most part construction went smoothly.

Because the design-build team was juggling new technology and new funding requirements, the state set aside 5% of the project budget — $141,400 — for contingencies like change orders. This foresight paid off.

For example, a means for communication between the solar array and the plant's SCADA system was not included in the original design, since the system was designed to monitor just the treatment processes. Yet as the project neared completion, the team determined it would be useful to connect the solar components to the system so that operators could monitor the whole system remotely.

They tapped into unused funds from project contingencies to cover the $46,000 cost of those connections.

Currently, stimulus-funded loans are at work on 34 contracts that are expected to lower the state's energy consumption by 25 million kWh/year. That translates to 18,000 fewer tons of carbon dioxide annually.

“If not for the stimulus, this project would've been three to five years down the road,” Melanson says.

— Allan (george.allan@stantec.com) is a principal in the Westford, Mass., office of Stantec and helped the Chelmsford (Mass.) Water District manage the design and construction of the solar farm project.


LESSONS LEARNED

Four steps to a successful grant or loan application.

Think outside the box. Chelmsford Water District Environmental Compliance Manager Todd Melanson and his colleagues doubted state authorities would consider preliminary plans for a solar photovoltaic installation as “shovel-ready.”

Thinking fast, they turned to a local engineering school for a student to study the project's viability and potential economic benefits. They used the resulting report as a planning document to show how the installation could help lower public-sector energy consumption.

Be proactive. Managers gave themselves a crash course in building, energy, and environmental compliance trends to identify the technologies best suited for their application and funding-program requirements.

By having planning documents prepared and organized, they were able to meet the application deadline for a stimulus-funded revolving loan.

Develop partnerships. Managers cultivated relationships with state environmental protection and energy resources department employees, met with local legislators, and attended educational initiatives sponsored by academia and utilities.

“The way we went about this and used our resources, we were able to create a functioning cycle of how to get something like this project done,” Melanson says.

Foreknowledge is forewarned. Explore all the possible contingencies of alternative technology. Have an electrical engineer review plans for utility interconnection. If there's another renewable energy system nearby it may affect your potential installaion. Determine what impact studies, upgrades, or other requirements you'll need to complete for project approval.