Warren redistributes solar income

Newton mayor steers city savings to low-income residents

NEWTON MAYOR SETTI WARREN announced a small solar project on Wednesday that will slightly trim the city’s electric bill and funnel the bulk of the savings to about 1,250 low-income residents of the community. The low-income residents will save about $40 to $50 a year, officials said.

The project itself is no different from countless deals municipals have negotiated with solar developers across the state. Most municipalities, however, use the proceeds from these deals to raise revenue or lower city electrical costs for the benefit of all taxpayers. What sets the Newton project apart is Warren’s decision to share most of the savings from the deal directly with low-income residents to help address income inequality in the wealthy Boston suburb.

“This project provides modest, modest, modest relief to some folks that need it the most in our city,” Warren said at a City Hall press conference. “There’s a lot more to do.”

Newton Mayor Setti Warren, center, chats after his solar press conference.

Newton Mayor Setti Warren, center, chats after his solar press conference.

Ameresco of Framingham is the solar developer on the project. The company is building a canopy over a Department of Public Works parking lot on Elliot Street and installing solar panels on the roof that will generate an estimated 667,000 kilowatt hours of electricity each year. Newton will not be required to put up any funds for the project.

Geri Kantor, senior project development manager for Ameresco, said the company will turn a profit by selling the electricity and taking advantage of state and federal solar subsidies. Electricity from the project is expected to start flowing at the start of 2017.

Newton officials say the city will pay $101,000 to Ameresco for $163,000 worth of net metering credits, which are state-created subsidies that can be used to offset charges on an electric bill. Newton officials said net metering credits worth $60,000 will be distributed to residents who currently receive special discounted rates from Eversource because they qualify for such means-tested public benefits as food stamps or MassHealth.

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Bruce Mohl

Editor, CommonWealth

About Bruce Mohl

Bruce Mohl is the editor of CommonWealth magazine. Bruce came to CommonWealth from the Boston Globe, where he spent nearly 30 years in a wide variety of positions covering business and politics. He covered the Massachusetts State House and served as the Globe’s State House bureau chief in the late 1980s. He also reported for the Globe’s Spotlight Team, winning a Loeb award in 1992 for coverage of conflicts of interest in the state’s pension system. He served as the Globe’s political editor in 1994 and went on to cover consumer issues for the newspaper. At CommonWealth, Bruce helped launch the magazine’s website and has written about a wide range of issues with a special focus on politics, tax policy, energy, and gambling. Bruce is a graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He lives in Dorchester.

About Bruce Mohl

Bruce Mohl is the editor of CommonWealth magazine. Bruce came to CommonWealth from the Boston Globe, where he spent nearly 30 years in a wide variety of positions covering business and politics. He covered the Massachusetts State House and served as the Globe’s State House bureau chief in the late 1980s. He also reported for the Globe’s Spotlight Team, winning a Loeb award in 1992 for coverage of conflicts of interest in the state’s pension system. He served as the Globe’s political editor in 1994 and went on to cover consumer issues for the newspaper. At CommonWealth, Bruce helped launch the magazine’s website and has written about a wide range of issues with a special focus on politics, tax policy, energy, and gambling. Bruce is a graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He lives in Dorchester.

According to a city handout, the Newton residents will see their electric bill drop by $40 to $50 a year, while Newton will garner about $2,000 in savings on its electric tab.

Warren, who many believe has plans to run for higher office, said the project will provide environmental and economic benefits for the city and its residents. But he also said the project will provide direct help to the one in eight Newton households living on less than $25,000 a year and help address income inequality.