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Settled in the mid-eighteenth century just seven miles from Boston, the city of Melrose has offered its residents a compromise between a crowded metropolis and the rural outlying region for decades. Featuring several grand old Victorian homes and wetlands, the city has been committed to sustainability and conservation for decades. This history of leadership in sustainable energy is what led Melrose to become the first community in Massachusetts to launch a solar marketing and outreach campaign tailored for nonprofits, houses of worship, and small businesses called “Go Solar Melrose: Big Roof Solar.”

While rooftop solar has grown exponentially in Massachusetts, nearly all rooftop solar development has focused on residential projects smaller than 25 kW and commercial projects larger than 300 kW. Houses of worship, nonprofits, and small commercial make up most of the nearly 80% of the addressable rooftop solar market with capacity under 300kW. But even in a highly developed rooftop solar market like Massachusetts, those projects make up less than a quarter of the capacity installed to date. Committed to meeting the city’s goals to be carbon neutral by 2050 and extend the benefits of solar to an underserved market, the Melrose Energy Commission sought to use this campaign as a launch pad for expanding access to solar beyond the residential market. The campaign goal is to contract 250kW of solar photovoltaic across nonprofits and small businesses in the city by the end of 2019.

The Melrose Energy Commission pulled in the key ingredients to a successful campaign: local community support, trusted introductions to decision-makers, technical expertise, and highly visible examples of success. The community partnered with Boston-based Resonant Energy, a solar provider specializing in nonprofit solar finance options, the Solar Massachusetts Renewable Target (SMART) Program, and the technical complexities of serving projects 25kW to 300 kW.

Since its launch, the campaign has installed arrays at Melrose Highlands Congregational Church (MHCC), Green Street Baptist Church, and First Baptist Church. Through a unique financing pathway, MHCC was able to purchase 61.5 kW of solar across two roofs with an upfront discount achieved by transferring the Federal Investment Tax Credit to a third party. The 61.5kW of capacity allowed the church to generate their entire electricity usage, claim $9,444 SMART incentive revenue in year 1, and sell the excess electricity produced to support the work of the organization.  The total savings in year 1 alone will be $15,687 and over $200,000 by year 25.

By taking advantage of opportunities like MHCC’s financing pathway, Melrose is finding new ways to remove local barriers for nonprofits and places of worship to install commercial solar projects. In recognition of these innovative efforts to advance solar energy, the city of Melrose was presented with the SolSmart Innovation Award in November 2019.

This case study was written by SolSmart team member Gabriel Rusk, Assistant Program Manager at the International City/County Management Association