MOULTONBOROUGH — The sun is Earth’s silent energy source and the New Hampshire Electric Cooperative’s new solar farm is a silent and efficient energy producer for part of the state.
Situated on 12 acres carved out of a 65-acre wooded parcel far off the Moultonborough Neck Road is a vast array of solar panels converting the sun’s rays into enough energy to power 600 homes.
“There’s no noise, no moving parts, and no maintenance,” says Gary Lemay, the Co-op’s renewable energy engineer as he looks over the multimillion-dollar facility that is now in its seventh month of producing clean energy and helping to reduce the cost of providing power to customers of the member-owned utility.
“Now you’ll see the Co-op’s biggest secret,” Co-op Communications Administrator Seth Wheeler chuckled as he opened the access gate off Hanson Road for a visitor. Truth be told, more deer, which inhabit the nearby woods, have seen the state’s largest solar farm than humans who live on Moultonborough Neck. The solar farm cannot be seen from any roads, and since it is surrounded by 40-plus acres of swamp, wetlands and woods, even for its nearest neighbors it’s out of sight.
The total cost to build the facility was $5 million. Construction began in January 2017, when the site was cleared of trees, and concluded last December.
The 7,200 panels together produce about 3.3 million kilowatt-hours of electricity a year. The juice makes a journey from the solar farm along a transmission line to the Co-op substation a third of a mile away on Moultonborough Neck Road, from where it is distributed to the utility’s customers.
While the solar facility produces only a small fraction — between 1 and 2 percent — of the utility’s peak power demand, the Co-op sees the benefits of its only commercial generating facility as twofold. First: It is a new source of dependable renewable energy for the next 30 years or more. Second: It provides significant savings on what the utility would otherwise have to pay to purchase power off the regional power grid, especially during the peak time between 5-8 p.m.
The Moultonborough project’s output is expected to save the Co-op more than $280,000 per year in costs it would otherwise incur to purchase and deliver the same energy at wholesale from sources outside its system. After factoring in the cost of construction and the expected savings, the power from the project is expected to immediately have a net cost similar to that for conventionally produced power imported by the Co-op from the regional market.
This price stability is important to the Co-op. “We know what this power will cost,” Lemay said. By comparison, the price for wholesale power purchased off the New England power grid can fluctuate widely.
The facility also generates Renewable Energy Certificates which the Co-op can use either to meet its requirements under the state’s Renewable Portfolio Standard or can sell to other electricity providers. The certificates — or Green Tags — represent proof that 1 megawatt-hour of electricity was generated from a renewable energy resource and was fed into the shared system of power lines which transport energy to the general public.
“This was a big job for the Co-op,” Lemay said. He said that the utility is now looking at the possibility of installing storage batteries at the site to store power until it is most needed at times of peak power demand.
Whether the Co-op might build other solar facilities remains to be seen and the lead time for such facilities is considerable. Planning for the Moultonborough facility took three years and construction took another year.