SHIRLEY — The Energy Advisory Committee at its meeting last week had plenty of good news to talk about, including two solar farms on the horizon and a recent announcement by the Massachusetts Department of Energy Resources that the town was awarded its Green Community designation.
According to the DOER website, Shirley is the 86th community in the state to earn the designation, which comes with perks such as technical advice and grant eligibility and a $152,975 first-year grant in the pipeline.
With the town’s application status listed as “open” and a Jan. 27 deadline to meet, the EAC’s next task is to identify and describe the energy-saving project or projects initial grant funds will be used for.
That’s a lot of work to do in a very short time, Chairman Bryan Dumont said.
Given that the EAC did just that for the Green Community initiative when a gap in the application had to be closed at the last minute, the phrase could become a rallying cry.
Members agreed to get the job done this time, too.
The project target is building insulation for town buildings, Dumont said, with work already in progress for the application.
A firm has been tapped to conduct energy audits, he said. Based on a previous look-see by an expert, town buildings need major insulation upgrades, even the new ones.
Although it was built only a decade ago, for example, the Town Offices building insulation doesn’t meet today’s stringent standards.
Aiming to create energy as well as save it, the Town of Shirley and the Shirley Water District plan to host solar collection facilities on property they respectively own.
The town-owned location of choice is the so-called Barkus property off Walker Road. The targeted Water District site is a sand pit off Patterson Road.
The Water District land tops aquifers tied into town wells and for that reason is an essential resource that must be protected, said committee member Ann Towne, who is also a Water Commissioner and represents the District on the EAC.
Besides the chairman and Towne, other EAC members are Selectman Andy Deveau, Town Treasurer Kevin Johnston and COA Treasurer Frank Esielionis.
Towne updated the group on talks with EPG Solar, the company the Water District has selected to construct the solar farm, the output from which is expected to meet the district’s energy needs and then some.
Adding another protective layer to the process, the District has engaged GPR engineer Steve Strong to conduct preliminary site and design work and evaluate the proposal from a technical standpoint. “He’ll review and return it, and we’ll be ready to negotiate with the provider next week,” Towne said.
Although they are separate entities that operate independently, Strong advises that the two groups — municipal government and the Water District — work in concert on this dual initiative, Towne said, and it’s in the best interests of both to go with the same company. The premise is that dovetailing the two projects will result in the best overall benefit for the town, she explained.
After some discussion, the EAC voted unanimously to recommend that the Selectmen hire EPG to build the town’s solar farm, paralleling the Water District’s choice.
On a separate motion, members also voted unanimously to recommend retaining a consulting firm, BIG, to assist in the negotiation process, serving as owner’s agent.
Still in session later that evening, the EAC presented its recommendations to the other board during a brief, out-of-synch but duly posted Selectmen’s meeting down the hall.
After brief presentations by Dumont and other EAC members, the selectmen acted on their advice, voting unanimously to retain the two firms, as recommended.
Question: Chairman David Swain asked when the two solar farms would be up and running.
Answer: With all systems go from now on, about a year.
Swain added that the EAC deserves “kudos” from townspeople for doing all they set out to do in such short order. “You’ve done an outstanding job in a short time,” he said.