Based in Gardner, Massachusetts, GAAMHA, Inc. is a nonprofit human service agency with a big mission and a tight budget. They provide personalized support, training and treatment to individuals with disabilities and substance use disorders throughout north-central Massachusetts and southern New Hampshire. But, as Tracy Hutchinson, President/Chief Executive Officer explains, “Most of our funding comes directly from the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. We are paid a set rate for the services we provide; that is what our budget is based on.” That leaves virtually no wiggle room for fluctuating utility bills. For the last seven years it hasn’t been a problem.
In 2014, BlueHub, working with the City of Gardner and its Redevelopment Authority, transformed a barren brownfield site into a solar field sporting a 3,287-panel, one-megawatt ground-mounted solar array. The system generates 1.2 million kilowatt hours per year, enough to serve 165 homes with clean, renewable energy. Critically, it has also saved four local nonprofits — including GAAMHA — more than $350,000 combined on their electricity bills.
Here’s how: Energy produced by the solar array is counted in virtual net metering credits, which BlueHub sells at a below-market, fixed rate. The credits are then transferred to the customers’ electricity bills, offsetting a portion of those bills. Customers save money in the short term, and since net metering credits increase when electric rates increase, they are protected from utility price increases in the long term.
If an opportunity arises to take advantage of solar net metering, and you are in a situation where budgets are tight and cost controls are needed, take advantage of it. It’s a great way to impact your bottom line.”
Now, with the project well-established, BlueHub sold the Gardner solar array to Sunwealth, a clean energy investment firm. The sale frees funds for BlueHub to invest in emerging clean energy projects. As part of the sale, BlueHub and Sunwealth agreed that all four existing customers have the option to renew their agreements, guaranteeing that these customers’ electric bills remain stable for the next 12 years. With GAAMHA using solar credit for eight buildings, Hutchinson is grateful. “Having these solar credits saves us vital funding that we are able to contribute back into our programs to ensure quality services. Being included in this is phenomenal.”