Private donor, Williams College bringing the sun's power to the Williamstown Youth Center


WILLIAMSTOWN — A private donor is teaming up with Williams College to fund a solar installation project on the roof of the Williamstown Youth Center, which is expected to save the center as much as 90 percent on its power costs.

According to David Rempell, the youth center's executive director, one of the center's supporters "was interested in paying for a solar project over a 5-year period."

The "very generous donor," Sheila Stone, wanted to fund the $350,000 project with five annual installments, but for a such a project, the costs are paid up front. One of the center's board of directors brought the matter to the attention of Williams College.

College officials then offered to pay the up front cost in the form of a no-interest bridge loan, and the donor would pay the loan back with annual installments.

"I am proud to be a partner in this project that combines the best efforts of town and gown to better our community," Stone said in a prepared statement.

In a statement the college released about the project, officials said the action was "as a part of its commitment to invest in regional alternative and sustainable energy projects."

Rempell said the 100 kilowatt-hour installation will save between 80 and 90 percent on an annual electric bill of roughly $19,000, if the net metering caps are lifted in time. If not, the savings would be in the range of 75 to 80 percent. The youth center's annual budget is about $380,000.

"It kind of brings us full circle," Rempell said. "When we built this center, we had a vision that it should be as environmentally friendly as possible."

It was even designed with the capacity to install solar panels on the roof at a later date, he said. The new building opened in 2012

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Williamstown Youth Center is a nonprofit operation to providing recreational programs and activities for youth in grades 1 through 12. Rempell said they host about 75 children every day for a variety of activities.

The money saved will go to provide more access to the center, Rempell said.

"The savings allows us to continue to expand operations for children no matter what the finances of their family might be," he said.

Charley Stevenson, owner of Integrated Eco Strategy, which is the project manager of the youth center's solar installation, said the net metering caps would cost the center in the range of $5,000 a year in increased power costs.

Net metering is the term used to describe the practice of a utility company paying the owner of a solar installation for the power the site pumps into the grid. The cap was hit last year, and since then, any solar project coming online will be paid at the wholesale rate for the power generated to the grid. Before the caps were reached, the power was paid for at the retail rate.

Either way, Stevenson said, "it's a good deal for the Williamstown Youth Center under any circumstances. For them it means long-term energy security."

Rempell noted that this is part of the college's effort to invest in clean energy initiatives in the college and community, rather than divest its endowment from fossil fuel producing companies.

"They decided to invest in projects that accelerate the use of renewable energy and make the area more environmentally friendly," he said. "The college trustees saw this as a good example of that investment strategy."

The college will receive the Solar Renewable Energy Credits generated by the system at the youth center for four years, and will use those funds to establish a Sustainability Revolving Fund to finance further energy conservation projects developed by Williams students.


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