Provincetown Center for Coastal Studies Unveils New Solar Array by Cape Cod Today

Not-for-profit ocean research org goes green, reduces carbon footprint

By Matilda Brown

The solar array at the Provincetown Center for Coastal Studies (PCCS) has been officially unveiled, despite having been in operation for the last four months. According to Luke Hinkle, the President of My Generation Energy, Inc. , the company that installed the panels at the center, the delay in the ribbon cutting was to ensure that the system worked well before letting everyone know about it.

Mike Thonus, the operations manager for My Generation Energy, said that the panels have been producing electricity since May. Thonus said that while the project went up physically in a little over a week, there was a longer process of permitting and designing the 160 panels at the PCCS, a relatively small commercial project.

Dan Towler, the facilities manager for PCCS, said that he thinks the system is the largest in Provincetown. Towler said, “We are basically leasing the system. If more people knew about this, I think it would be happening everywhere at a much greater rate.”

Richard Delaney, President and CEO of the PCCS, said that “as a not-for-profit, we have to stretch our dollars” but more important than the savings is the fact that PCCS is reducing its carbon footprint. Delaney said, “For us, that’s important because we see first hand the effects of climate change on the ocean.”

Delaney said, “We at the center have been hoping to use green technology as part of our facilities here and My Generation Energy made it a reality.” He added ,“We’re walking the talk…at least we can feel good about our operations here [at PCCS].”

Delaney said that the effects of climate change on the oceans have been noticeable, from acidification to warming. Delaney said that the temperatures last winter in Cape Cod bay were 3.5 degrees Fahrenheit warmer than average and that a recent report from NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) reported similar findings this past week, saying that the increases in temperature were more than natural fluctuations.

Delaney said that the acidification of the oceans has large potential effects on the food chain and other aspects of ocean life. Delaney said that is why “we are trying to find ways to mitigate the effects of climate change.” He added, “Climate change is human induced and everyone needs to take some action to mitigate our carbon footprint.”

Delaney gave credit to everyone involved with the project, but made special note of Bruce MacGregor, a board member who Delaney said facilitated the partnership between My Generation Energy and PCCS.

Already, the system has produced 14,125 kWh of electricity and 20,000 pounds of carbon offsets which is carbon that wasn’t used or produced because of the project.

That number is determined by how much electricity is generated by the panels and then there are simple equations to convert that number into how much oil or coal it would have taken to produce the same amount of electricity, Delaney said. The project has also saved an estimated 200 trees and offset over 1,200 pounds of Nitrous Oxide.

Hinkle said that over the next 25 years, the amount of natural gas, coal, and oil not used because of this project will be fairly large. Hinkle added that more than three pounds of enriched uranium will also be saved over the next 25 years as a result of this one project.

The project is a third party ownership. Hinkle explained, “We install the project, Unutility Electric LLC is the ownership company, and the third party is the center in this case because they are the host of the system.” Unutility Electric is a group of private investors who financed the whole project.  Hinkle said, “There are different groups of investors for every project…the projects are private investments.”  The center, Delaney said, basically leases the array from Unutility. Hinkle said that the center gets two statements, one from NStar and one from Unutility.

In the summer, when the center produces more energy than they can use, credits show up on their bills and those credits are later applied toward NStar bills when the array isn’t producing as much energy. Some of the energy is transferred to the center’s office building on Bradford Street, but it’s done through accounting, not wires, Hinkle said.

The project also helps keep money for energy in Massachusetts, Hinkle said. Hinkle said that every year, Massachusetts spends nearly $22 billion per year on energy (that number has not been verified), with most of the money going out of state and a lot of the money going out of the country. This project, Hinkle said, keeps that money in the local economy. Even the solar panels were made in Tennessee, despite the fact that most solar panels (80% according to Hinkle) are manufactured in China.

The warranty on the panels is 25 years, but Hinkle said “we expect things to outlast their warranties.”

My Generation Energy, Inc. is based out of Dennis, but performs installations all over the Cape. According to Thonus, the company performs installations from “Provincetown to Plymouth” and as of next week, they will be going as far as Quincy.

Recently, My Generation Energy, Inc. finished a project for the Harwich Food Pantry, and they have done work for the Marine Biological Lab in Falmouth, as well as completing a solar garden in Brewster.

Most of the work that is done by My Generation Energy, Inc. is private and they don’t tend to perform work for the towns on the Cape. The company has been in operation since 2009, and according to Thonus, “Luke began the company after watching a presidential debate where neither side had anything bad to say about solar energy.”

Some of the people present were those who had invested in the project as well as people from the PCCS who had pushed the project forward, such as Dan Towler and Jesse Mechling.

Stefanie Coxe was present to represent Congressman Bill Keating. Coxe said, “I’m here because he [Keating] was in DC. He’s a big fan of the center and renewable energy.”

The installation of this system in Provincetown is part of the growing movement toward renewable energy by many organizations. Provincetown was recently designated a Green Community by the state, joining the other two Green Communities on the Cape – Truro and Mashpee.

Delaney said, “I hope this is the beginning of a movement.” With plans in the works for more solar gardens on the Cape by My Generation Energy, Inc. and the growing popularity of wind turbines, there may be more renewable energy ribbon cuttings in the future, potentially adding up to reduced energy costs and reduced carbon emissions.

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