Housing Nantucket Taking Steps To Increase Solar Energy On Island

JohnCarl McGrady •

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Housing Nantucket is completing solar installations on six of its 38 affordable housing units in a bid to increase access to renewable energy on the island and reduce the cost of electricity for its tenants. The non-profit, which combats Nantucket’s housing crises by providing affordable housing to islanders who otherwise might not be able to find a place to live, plans to ultimately install solar installations on more of its properties.

The solar installations are funded partly by EmPower Massachusetts, a program implemented by Governor Charlie Baker’s administration to support innovative local solutions to improving clean energy access. Housing Nantucket also received a grant from ReMain Nantucket, a nonprofit focused on strengthening local resilience, and supplemented the grants with money raised from donors. The project cost $180,000 in total, but Executive Director Anne Kuszpa says it is more notable for the money it will save tenants.

“Say they pay National Grid an average of $300 per month. Well, now that they have solar, they are paying zero to National Grid,” she said. “Without this program, they just won’t have access to renewable energy, period.”

Especially as energy costs increase nationwide, many of Housing Nantucket’s tenants struggle to pay their electricity bills and are forced to choose between heat and other essentials. The solar installations will eliminate the cost of their electricity, as they will be generating their own energy, freeing up more money to spend on everything else.

“We can’t subside gas or the cost of living or any expenses they might have, but knowing that their cost of electricity will be lower makes it easier for them to pay for everything,” Kuszpa said.

With the solar installations, tenants will also receive credits from National Grid during months where they use less electricity than they produce, which they can then cash in during months where their energy use is higher.

“In the summertime, they aren’t going to need to use electric heat, and the sun is shining, so they are going to be generating the most power, but they’ll be using the least power,” Kuszpa explained. “This way, it gets stored up, and in the winter when they are still generating some power, but their heat is on and they are using more energy... they can tap into those credits.”

Although National Grid provides a reduced rate for some low-income families, many of Housing Nantucket’s low-income tenants don’t qualify and pay the same cost for electricity as people with considerably higher incomes. On Nantucket, that price is higher than in much of the state, as locals have to pay increased transmission rates to cover the cost of getting power to the island.

Nantucket’s energy is supplied by two undersea cables, but in recent years, the demand for energy on the island during the summer months has threatened to outstrip their capacity. National Grid estimates that a third cable could be necessary as soon as 2028 to ensure that the island has a stable supply of energy, an expensive proposition that has sparked significant local effort to reduce the island’s energy use.

Fitting affordable housing units with solar could be part of the solution, playing into a broader solar movement on the island that seeks in part to delay a third cable.

“We are all about the environment,” Kuszpa said. “If we are able to put more of the island’s load on solar, that reduces what has to come over on those undersea cables, [and] its less likely to have that third cable put in.”

Housing Nantucket doesn’t want to stop at just six solar installations. They have already received another grant from ReMain Nantucket to finance further installations, and they are also planning to leverage funding from the sale of several buildings they don’t have land for. Additionally, Housing Nantucket is benefitting from a concert held at the Chicken Box on September 8th featuring country soul musician Maggie Rose, and a portion of the proceeds will be used for their next round of installations.

To fund future solar installations, Housing Nantucket will also raise the rent on its affordable housing units for tenants that have solar—but the bills tenants pay will still be lower since the solar installations will erase their energy expenditures.

“It’s still quite a savings to them,” Kuszpa said. Essentially, Housing Nantucket is now providing their electricity at a massively reduced cost and using the money to reduce the cost of electricity for more tenants in the future.

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