EmPower Mass Project Spotlight: Housing Nantucket Revolving Clean Energy Fund  

Keyana White, Clean Energy and Environmental Justice Fellow

As with our previous project spotlights, a wonderful part of the EmPower Massachusetts Program (referred to in this blog as “EmPower Mass” or the “Program”) has been the progress and achievements of our awardees. Today, we are very excited to share an update on the Housing Nantucket Revolving Clean Energy Fund Pilot Project (referred to in this blog as the “Revolving Clean Energy Fund”) led by lead applicant and EmPower Implementation Awardee Housing Nantucket and their partner ACK Smart Energy (collectively referred to as the “Project Team”).   

Project Team 

Housing Nantucket is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization based on Nantucket. It is the only nonprofit on the island completely dedicated to providing and supporting equitable housing solutions for year-round residents. The organization was founded to answer the ongoing housing crisis on the island; specifically, to address issues associated with the high costs of homes and rentals, transportation concerns, and employment retention. Housing Nantucket serves those in the community who make between 50-175% of the Area Middle Income (“AMI”) through the provision of rental housing, home ownership, and educational programming.  

ACK Smart is the only provider of solar photovoltaic (“PV”) technology on Nantucket and has been an established presence for providing renewable energy on the island since 2011. They specialize in rooftop and ground-mounted solar PV panels.  

Housing Nantucket Clean Energy Revolving Fund Pilot Project 

With funding from the EmPower Mass Implementation Grant Opportunity, which awards funding to organizations to implement innovative program models or projects, the Project Team is piloting a Revolving Clean Energy Fund which would be initiated by the installation of solar PV panels on six area residential homes. To seed costs for the Revolving Clean Energy Fund, Housing Nantucket utilized funding from EmPower Mass and ReMain Nantucket, an environmental sustainability initiative, as well as its own organizational reserves.   

The goals of the Revolving Clean Energy Fund are two-fold: 1) to reduce the economic burden of energy costs for Housing Nantucket tenants, and 2) to use revenue generated from solar PV technology to then be re-invested into future energy efficiency and solar PV projects.  

Progress Report  

The Project Team has successfully completed the installation of solar PV systems on five of the six area rental properties slated for the first round. The installed solar PV systems on the five Housing Nantucket properties totaled 39.5 kilowatts (kW) in energy capacity. Between March and June 2022, the five homes with installed solar PV panels have seen a cumulative solar production of 22.14 MWh. MWh stands for Megawatt hours and is equal to 1,000 kilowatt hours (kWh) or 1,000 kWs of electricity produced continuously for one hour.   

While solar PV system installation has become common across the state, what makes this project unique is the overall approach. Because the solar PV systems were entirely funded by grants, all of the incentives and benefits are going directly to either the tenants or Housing Nantucket. One exciting example of this is the significant reductions in the costs of energy bills for tenants. The Project Team estimates that the annual net savings, on average, for Housing Nantucket tenants will be $1,155! 

Figure 1: Rent Increase vs Utility Savings

Although tenants will see a modest increase in rent, this increase is more than offset by the reduction in energy bill costs associated with the new Solar PV system installations, as you can see in Figure 1. Because of the new solar PV systems, tenants’ electricity bills will be significantly reduced or eliminated. Housing Nantucket will reinvest the increased rent into other clean energy programs to spread the benefits of clean energy to their other tenants.  

So, although a rent increase for tenants may initially give pause, the Revolving Clean Energy Fund Model should benefit both Housing Nantucket and its tenants. This is clearly showcased in tenant testimonials, which you can read more about in the next section.

Figure 2: Tenant Testimonial

As tenant Rose Marie shared, (figure 2), an important part of the benefits of the solar PV panels has been the reassurance of her family now being able to have access to clean energy technology. Additionally, Rose Marie lauded the economic benefits of solar PV technology, which has allowed for the money saved to be put toward her son’s education.  

Figure 3: Tenant Testimonials

In the tenant testimonials shown in figure 3, José spoke about how the installation of clean energy technology, like solar PV systems, can be an educational tool for youth – especially in teaching about how to be conscientious about energy use in the future. Tenant Roxana (figure 3) also shared how excited they were to be a part of this new initiative for renewable energy on the island. 

Figure 4: Tenant Testimonial

Wayne (home shown in figure 4), another Housing Nantucket tenant, talked about how he liked knowing that the power produced by their unit would go towards assisting other Housing Nantucket Tenants. To quote Wayne: “It’s a commendable model, and I like that we are able to contribute towards a greater good.” 

Challenges & Opportunities  

Clearly, the Revolving Clean Energy Fund has had a meaningful and largely positive impact on the participants in the program. However, projects such as these are not without their challenges. The Project Team has faced challenges with obtaining building approvals. In addition, the Project Team spoke about the initial hurdles of developing the financial model of an innovative project such as this.  

For solutions, the Project Team, specifically Housing Nantucket, turned to the Nantucket community for assistance. Support from the ReMain Nantucket Fund and MassCEC, as well as donors to Housing Nantucket’s Community Investment Tax Credit program, have allowed Housing Nantucket to minimize financial hardship for its tenants while generating income for the organization. 

Having the ability to purchase the solar panels outright, rather than entering into a long-term power purchase arrangement with a third-party, allowed Housing Nantucket to capitalize on the long-term financial benefits of the state’s solar incentive program known as the Solar Massachusetts Renewable Target (SMART) Program.  

Income generated from the sale of renewable energy credits in the secondary market will go into a revolving clean energy fund, which will fund solar panels at additional units. Most importantly, this project allows Housing Nantucket to contribute to wider solar acceptance and usage on the island by expanding renewable energy as a viable solution for the island community.  

Alongside support from the EmPower Team and their partners, Housing Nantucket was able to answer these challenges and, based on the success of the first round of the Revolving Clean Energy Fund, plans to continue implementing their project in Nantucket.  

This approach demonstrates the necessity, as has been discussed in previous blogs by the EmPower Mass Team, for building networks as a mechanism for ensuring the success of projects that can provide access to the benefits of clean energy to vulnerable communities within the Commonwealth; as well as the provision of additional benefits, such as the economic relief associated with the reduction of energy bill costs for Housing Nantucket tenants.  

In the News 

The EmPower Team would also like to share with you exciting news coverage for the first round of the Revolving Clean Energy Fund. The program has been published in local news outlets, such as the Cape Cod Times, and the Inquirer and Mirror, and e-newsletters like Nantucket Current and Daybreak Nantucket; as well as being featured in radio profiles on local station ACK-FM.   

Next Steps  

The next steps for the Project Team are to create a Revolving Clean Energy Fund Project Model Report. In this report, the Project Team will discuss project results and metrics to date and the process for the development of the Revolving Clean Energy Fund.  

Conclusions 

To conclude, the EmPower Team is looking forward to seeing (and hearing) updates on the continued efforts of the Project Team to bring solar PV technology to the island as they work towards reducing energy burden and increasing the benefits of clean energy access to Housing Nantucket residents.  

What’s coming next? Look out for more blog posts highlighting the progress and experiences of our awardees and their projects.  

Do you have thoughts on what else you’d like to see MassCEC do with the EmPower Massachusetts Program? We encourage readers to reach out to our team with questions, suggestions, or to be added to our EmPower email list. You can email us at empower@masscec.com.