Brewster Community Solar Garden producing more electricity than expected


A close up of the Brewster Community Solar Garden panels.

by Matilda Brown

The Brewster Community Solar Garden, located right by the water department off of Freeman’s Way, began operating the day after Groundhog Day. At the ribbon-cutting for the project on Wednesday evening, it was revealed that the project has outperformed baseline estimates for energy production, with a particularly high spike in the month of April.

All the electricity from the garden itself is fed into the grid. The project had 50 “sunshares” which were available to business owners and residents for purchase (all of them have been bought up by now). People who purchased the sunshares receive credits on their electric bills, with the credits tending – at least during the past several months – to be more than the bill itself.

Dan Rabold, chairman of the Brewster Board of Selectmen, accepts an award from Chris Powicki of the Cape and Islands Renewable Energy Collaborative. The sunshares cost $5,000 per share and the shares are good for five years worth of net metering credits, according to Mike Thonus, the operations manager for MyGenerationEnergy. Each share is worth 2% of the net metering credits, according to Thonus.

Thonus said that since the project is so new, the company is not sure what the fee will be to re-up after the five year period is over. However, Thonus said that decision will be based on market values at the time.

Many people at the ribbon-cutting were sunshare owners, while some were just self-professed “Luke groupies”, a reference to their following of MyGenerationEnergy’s President, Luke Hinkle, and his work with solar in the area.

Most of the shares are owned by residents, but several of the shares are owned by the Brewster Baptist Church and Millstone Liquors. Walter Butler, the owner of Millstone Liquors, said that he has so far been pleased with the effects of sunshare ownership on his electric bill.

Butler said that originally he had hoped to put panels on his store, but his store was not optimally positioned for the panels and so Hinkle had suggested the purchase of sunshares to him. Butler said that for him, the credit on his bill lowers his costs and he pays the difference.

Desiree Moyer, Hinkle’s wife, was in attendance at the ribbon cutting as well. She said that personally, they have four sunshares for their Brewster home. She added that they feed their electric car using the sunshares.

Moyer said, “Our electricity costs have been way, way negative. We have lots of credits.”

Credits can be used towards bills later in the year, when solar panels aren’t generating as much electricity, so accumulation of credits can keep costs down even in the winter.

Rich Wolf, the treasurer for the non-profit Brewster Community Solar Garden Cooperative, said that energy production had been so high in April because while the month was sunny, it also offered moderate temperatures. Wolf said that solar panels tend to work best in cooler temperatures (around 50 degrees Fahrenheit).

Wolf, who also owns a sunshare, said that in the fall, his home tends to get 30-40 kWh, while in the summer the numbers are around 50 kWh, and the numbers in the winter are around 20 kWh. He said that the one share he owns is enough to get him credits toward his bill.

The cells themselves are managed by MyGenerationEnergy. According to the Cooperative’s website:

The solar power is “delivered” to the site every day, welcomed by a large array of 1440 highly-efficient and US made Sharp panels. The panels generate electricity which is then conditioned and metered to the utility grid at the site. Through “virtual net metering” the credit from the project’s utility account is then transferred to the accounts of the Brewster Community Solar Garden®Cooperative members.

Wolf said the 1440 panels can generate up to 345.6 kWh per day and the panels are expected to generate about 3500 mWh (megawatt-hours) for the year.

MyGenerationEnergy pays around $10,000 per year in rental to the town of Brewster for use of the land, as well as property taxes and taxes on any earnings, according to Wolf.

The Brewster Community Solar Garden off Freeman’s Way. “The town of Brewster has been great. Brewster loves solar,” said Wolf. He added that the town is currently in the process of putting up a major solar project at the transfer station.

Mike Thonus said that the company currently has similar projects in the permitting stages in other towns.

Hinkle’s parents, Lyle and Luverne Hinkle, came to the ribbon-cutting all the way from Ohio. Luverne said that she felt Hinkle was in the right field in solar because “the day he was born, he was born face up looking at the sun.”

Some of the Brewster selectmen were present at the ribbon cutting as well. The clerk for the Selectmen, Ed Lewis, said that he was pleased with the solar installation given that “the former use of this land was dirt.”

Seth Rolbein of Senator Dan Wolf’s office was in attendance and gave a brief speech about how the Senator’s office is pleased about projects that empower communities, such as the solar garden.

Chris Powicki of the Cape and Islands Renewable Energy Collaborative was also in attendance. Powicki said that his group had already given an award to MyGenerationEnergy for the Outstanding Renewable Energy Project for 2012. Powicki came with two other awards, one for the town of Brewster and one for the Cooperative.

Powicki said that the goal of his group was to get the Cape and Islands onto entirely renewable energy. He said that for the solar garden project, the most important people were the people who voted for the project at town meeting, thereby making it possible.

Hinkle spoke last and thanked everyone for their support of the project. He said that looking back on his life, he imagines that this project and the people involved in it will stick out as a high-point for him.

MyGenerationEnergy has many other projects in the works and on November 7, Hinkle said that there will be another ribbon-cutting for a solar array by the airport in Hyannis. Hinkle said that project is 3 to 4 times larger than the solar garden in Brewster. That project is a private project for two local business entities – Shepley Building products and the other one owns several businesses, including Cape Cod Truck and Cape Cod Ready Mix.

Mati Brown holds a Journalism degree from the University of Massachusetts – Amherst. She has written for several publications, including the Berlin Reporter, EDGE publications, and the Falmouth and Mashpee Bulletins. A current resident of Brewster, she is glad to be writing about the area she grew up in.

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