Reps from Wellesley’s Municipal Light Plant and board, Sustainable Energy Committee and Natural Resources Commission held a meeting last month to discuss the possibility of Wellesley adopting a microgrid. These are small power networks that can operate in conjunction with or separate from the traditional grid if needed to supply renewable energy services, even in the face of severe climate or other events that knock out the main grid.
“Dreams of a microgrid in Wellesley have floated around for years,” said Ellen Korpi, who sits on the MLP Board and emceed the meeting. We’ve embedded the Wellesley Media recording below.
“At some recent MLP planning meetings, this dream has come into better focus,” she said, in presenting an agenda that ended with “Questions, Discussion, Brainstorming and Fantasizing.”
Moneer Azzam of Beacon Climate Innovations, introduced as Wellesley’s first homeowner to install photo-voltaic solar panels 23 years ago, presented on the concept of installing a microgrid in the middle of town to serve Wellesley Housing Authority residents on Washington Street, the police station and the senior center across the street. Such an set-up would sync nicely with Wellesley’s Municipal Vulnerability Preparedness efforts and support the town’s sustainability efforts to reduce its carbon footprint.
Creating a microgrid would “mitigate the impact of climate change and prepares us for it,” Azzam says.
The concept presented would include solar panels atop housing authority buildings, and new carports with panels at the police station and senior center. This could offset the electrical load of all of those facilities, and connect it to a battery for overall grid support or to allow the facilities to operate as an island if the grid is overwhelmed. Twenty thermal wells drilled 500 feet below Morton Park that sits next to the police station and housing authority buildings could power the heating and cooling systems across the facilities. It could also enable establishment of the senior center as a “resilience hub” in case of emergency, where Azzam says people could go to warm up or cool down.
Overall, such a project could offset 200 metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions per year. That sounds like a lot.
One benefit of a system like this would be the “democratization of the grid heating and cooling,” Azzam says, providing access to resources to those who might not typically be able to afford it. “They tend to be the most vulnerable when crises hit,” he says.
Wellesley, which has already been a sustainability leader through efforts such as those by the RDF, would also have an opportunity to take a leadership role in microgrids. One thing that would be different about the model presented is that it would expand beyond a single entity, such as a college dorm or a farm, as have been the focus of other microgrids.
Such a project could cost anywhere from multiple hundreds of dollars to well over a million, but there would be opportunities to shrink the budget, too. And the project could pay for itself within 4-5 years on the low end, while providing educational and other opportunities that might be hard to quantify.
The state has funded microgrid projects in the past and there should be opportunities for Wellesley to get ahold of such future funds, as well as grants from federal government programs and investments from those outside government, Azzam says. After figuring out if all necessary local parties are on board, going for funds to do a feasibility study would be the place to start.
Wellesley already benefits greatly from the energy independence afforded through the Municipal Light Plant. A microgrid could potentially allow the town to go beyond that.