Here comes the sun: Canton company embraces solar energy; town hopes to do the same

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Sika Sarnafil, a Canton roofing manufacturer, took part of the roof at its Dan Road facility and transformed it into a solar park, turning an otherwise unproductive and costly entity into an asset for the company.  The solar park will displace about 37 percent of the facility’s electricity use, according to a press release from the company, which is enough electricity to power about 25 homes.

The company, which specializes in thermoplastic roofing and waterproofing membranes, inaugurated the first phase of the solar park last Wednesday, on what was appropriately a bright and sunny day. The first phase consists of two separate 12,500-square-foot arrays of solar panels.

While Sika Sarnafil is being praised for embracing alternative energy sources in the private sector, the town of Canton is hoping to follow suit with an unrelated solar-based project of its own. As detailed at the last selectmen’s meeting, the town is in talks with Southern Sky Renewable Energy (SSRE) about turning half of the Pine Street landfill into a solar farm, complete with more than 24,000 solar panels.

Like Sika Sarnafil, this proposed project will be making use of an “unproductive asset” — a landfill that was capped in 1989 — and turning it into a “revenue generator” for the town, according to Selectmen Chairman Victor Del Vecchio.

“I think this [potential] agreement represents a wonderful opportunity for the town to generate revenue at a time when every dollar counts,” Del Vecchio said. “In addition, we’ll be enjoying a reduction in our energy costs to boot, and that’s truly a win-win situation.”

The potential agreement between the town and SSRE would be for 20 years. SSRE would install (and pay for) the panels and then sell the generated electricity to NSTAR. Del Vecchio estimates the town will make about $7 or $8 million of revenue over the course of the deal.

As reported in last week’s Citizen, if the negotiations go according to plan, this solar farm could be up and running by July. Del Vecchio said the parties are negotiating “in good faith” and he was “cautiously optimistic” that an agreement will be in place by year’s end.

Cost savings and energy savings are certainly benefits of Sika Sarnafil’s solar park, but another purpose of this park is to help the company test which type of solar technology is most efficient. Essentially, the company is using its own roof to conduct a large-scale science experiment.

There are currently two different types of arrays on the roof of the company’s building, taking up about a quarter of the 120,000-square-foot roof. The plan is to double the size of the park next year in the second phase of the project, adding a third and fourth unique solar array, according to Brian Whelan, senior vice president of Sika Sarnafil.

“We want to learn as much as we possibly can because we’re finding that one type of solar system doesn’t work everywhere,” Whelan said. “Every roof is different, the slope of the roof is different, the climate is different around the country. Our thought process was why not use our own building, our own roof, to learn…We wanted to get more experience so that we can educate our customers about the advantages of these different types of solar systems.”

Even though the park is on the company’s roof, Sika Sarnafil does not technically own these solar arrays; they are instead “hosting” them. Connecticut-based Greenskies Renewable Energy “capitalized, designed, engineered and installed” both arrays, according to a press release from Sika Sarnafil. So, Sika Sarnafil is experiencing the benefits of solar energy, but did not pay for the project. The company simply buys the energy produced from these solar panels at a discounted rate from Greenskies.

The efficiency of a solar energy system is naturally based upon the strength of the sun’s rays. The solar panels would collect more energy on a clear and sunny day than if it was overcast.

“That is one of the challenges with solar [energy],” Whelan said. “That is one of the reasons why it is more frequently used in the southern part of the country and in California because you get more sunshine than you do here in the northeast.”

But even so, Whelan said there are other factors to consider like cost of energy. If energy costs are high (like they are in Massachusetts), Whelan said solar energy is still a “wise investment.”

Whelan sees the roof as a “nice platform for solar” and would even like to see other private and public buildings in town make use of similar clean energy technology.

“There’s no question that roofing and solar [technology] are going to become more integrated for building construction,” he said.

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avatar Posted by on Oct 21 2010. Filed under Business, News, Town Government. Both comments and pings are currently closed.
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