July 14, 2020 In the News

In Keene, Shaheen touts solar energy projects

Keene Sentinel
By Mia Summerson
July 14, 2020

U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen says it’s important to find ways to keep supporting solar projects at a time when many of them have been canceled or delayed because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Shaheen, D-N.H., visited Keene’s police station and public works facility on Marlboro Street on Monday to hear about the 2,000-panel solar array that tops its roof. Nationally, she said, around a million energy sector jobs were lost due to the pandemic, about 600,000 of them in solar and other clean energy industries.

“There’s been a real significant impact,” Shaheen, who is running for a third term in the U.S. Senate, said in an interview after Monday’s meeting with city officials. “Obviously, we want to see those jobs back, because it’s not just the fact that people have lost their jobs and their livelihoods, but it’s also about keeping America innovative and being able to continue to compete as we look at the global economy.”

Supporting clean energy projects is also important to reduce the damaging effects of climate change, Shaheen noted.

The federal Recovery Act of 2009, approved in response to the 2008 recession, included provisions designed to spur investment in clean energy, Shaheen said. She said she hopes Congress’ next relief bill includes a similar provision for solar companies that are struggling due to the pandemic.

“We’re hoping we can do the same thing in this legislative package,” she told city officials before listening to a presentation on the solar array. “And also hoping that we can provide help to municipalities so that you all don’t have to lay people off and so that it doesn’t affect these kind of projects.”

Dan Weeks, director of market development with New England-based ReVision Energy, the company that installed the Marlboro Street solar array, said the pandemic disrupted about 80 percent of planned solar projects in the country, delaying them in some cases, and causing them to be canceled in others.

He said thousands of jobs have been lost in New Hampshire’s energy sector due to the pandemic; until recently, it had been seen as a rapidly expanding job market.

“For years until the pandemic, solar, followed by wind, were the fastest growing jobs in the country,” Weeks said, “jobs which, in New Hampshire, pay about 50 percent more than the average New Hampshire wage.”

Jobs in the clean energy industry have been taking a hit since early on in the pandemic. According to a Forbes article from April 17, the clean energy sector had shed 106,000 in March alone, with 92.6 percent of those being in the energy efficiency, renewable energy and clean vehicle industries.

Weeks said that something as simple as extending tax credits for solar projects would be helpful and asked Shaheen to consider ways to help municipalities fund renewable energy projects.

The federal solar tax credit gives homeowners and companies a tax break equivalent to a portion of the cost of installing a solar system. The portion was originally 30 percent of the cost, but decreased to 26 percent at the end of 2019 and is on track to continue decreasing over the next few years, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.

Shaheen said efforts to extend the federal solar tax credit have been ongoing for some time, but that she’s hoping it’s something that can be included in the next legislative package.

The solar array at the police department/public works building, completed in late 2018, generates about 738,779 kilowatt-hours annually. This saves the city several thousand dollars per year, Weeks said.

The city plans to install another solar array, a ground-mounted system at Keene’s wastewater treatment facility near the city-owned Dillant-Hopkins Airport in North Swanzey. The array is expected to generate 1.6 million kilowatt-hours each year, Weeks said.