Study explores new power sources, backup for Shirley municipal complex


SHIRLEY – Selectmen on Monday night heard a presentation about a state-sponsored program called “Municipal Vulnerability Preparedness” or MVP, and a grant-funded feasibility study that is currently wrapping up.

Hillary King, regional representative for the MVP program, explained what it’s all about: providing support for Massachusetts communities to prepare for the impacts of climate change, hazards such as floods, drought, heat-waves, snow storms.

This being New England, where seasonal challenges such as ice storms, cold snaps, blizzards and prolonged periods of summer heat tend to come and go like migrating geese, most folks around here have likely lived through at least one of the natural disasters King mentioned, along with damaging fall-out, from frozen pipes to power outages to finding ways to beat the heat when temperatures spike. Add climate change to the mix and the potential for weather-related problems increases.

Which is why it makes sense to assess climactic risks and explore ways that towns like Shirley can mitigate the effects on people and help public services stay operational, hubs such as the municipal complex, for example, where the town offices, police station and library are located.

With a feasibility study to get the ball rolling, the MVP program can help communities determine what their “vulnerabilities” are and develop action plans to deal with them, King said, ranging from nature-based solutions such as creating open spaces to handle flood waters to fostering “community resilience” with designated emergency storm shelters or cooling centers during a heat wave.

In 2019, the town received a $20,000 MVP Action Grant to conduct a workshop for stakeholders to explore that subject, she said. The purpose, in part, was to determine the town’s strengths and weaknesses, or climate-related vulnerability, from neighborhoods to infrastructure.

The Microgrid Feasibility Study focused on the benefits of an “interconnected” system that links renewable energy sources such as solar panels with generators and batteries. Working with and/or in place of the existing utility grid, it would feed power to the municipal complex and can continue to do so when the lights go out.

The system can function any time or all the time, independently or in tandem with the grid. But none of the power generated goes back to the grid, which is a key point. It all goes to the three town buildings.

Besides the capability of providing more Kilowatt hours of power for significantly less cost than utility companies do, another plus is that the MVP plan outlined by King and the other presenters, Kevin Sullivan and Sam Godin, from the engineering firm Fuss & O’Neill, includes renewable, “clean” green power sources such as wind and solar. In this case, solar panels.

Specifically, ground-mounted solar panels in paved parking lots around the three town buildings. Elevated on pillars, like carports, or canopies, they provide protection from the elements and can serve double-duty as shelters for vehicles on hot summer days, when parked cars can heat up considerably.

The roof at the nearby Ayer Shirley Middle School would be ideal for solar panels, Sullivan said

Town Administrator Mike McGovern said the school could be a tie-in, later on.

McGovern asked the engineers about the lifespan of system elements and what happens if the solar panels are damaged or destroyed.

UMass Amherst built its own system and maintains it, Sullivan said. But municipalities don’t typically to that. “One way” is to contract with a developer to build, own and maintain the system, he said, usually for 20-25 years. When the agreement expires, the town can take over, extend the lease or dismantle the system, he said.

“There are also other state programs that could support this type of project,” King added.

Resident input comes next. How do residents view the idea of installing the system. participating in the MVP program? McGovern said he’d have preferred in-person community forums, but Covid-19 makes that idea less doable, if not impossible, at least for now.

Communications Committee Chairman Melissa Lynch agreed to post information about the program on social media, such as what the study is for and that there’s no cost to the town so far.

In a later conversation with the Nashoba Valley Voice, McGovern explained that there’s no deadline and no dollar figure for a project proposal yet. If the town wants to wait that’s fine, he said. Even if it seeks grant-funding to help pay for the project, the study can be shelved and dusted off later.

The municipal complex has a back up system in place, with diesel-powered generators that are nearing the end of their lifespan, but still functional. The solar-powered micro grid would replace that system, but it’s not a pressing need right now. “There’s no hurry,” McGovern said.


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