SMLD named an energy leader

CCERI_Transformer Installed

by Lex Thomas

The Sterling Municipal Light Department has long been recognized as a leader for implementing innovative energy initiatives that benefit ratepayers while maximizing energy resources. In survey results released in April, SMLD ranked in first place on the Utility Energy Storage list with 533 watts per customer installed in 2016. The 10th annual survey includes figures from 412 utilities across the country on solar connected to the grid both in 2016 and in total since 2007.

On October 12, clean energy leaders and stakeholders from across Massachusetts and New England gathered in Sterling to celebrate the groundbreaking for SMLD’s Community Clean Energy Resiliency Initiative Battery Storage Project, the first utility-scale municipal energy storage system in Massachusetts. The 2-megawatt/3.9 megawatt-hour battery storage system installed at Sterling’s Chocksett Road Substation is able to isolate from the main grid during a power outage and, with the support of existing solar generation, provide up to 12 days of backup power to the town’s police station and dispatch center, critical facilities providing first responder services. The system is designed to provide emergency backup power during severe weather episodes. The project doubles the installed battery storage capacity in Massachusetts.

While SMLD and its general manager Sean Hamilton are recognized as models for similar projects throughout the country, Hamilton is quick to point out that his organization’s success is due to a vast network of cooperative efforts throughout the town, the state, and the country.

“You don’t do a project like this without a lot of help on the operations side,” says Hamilton. “We’ve worked with all kinds of boards and committees in Sterling. They’ve all been fantastic. When you have that kind of cooperation, things go smoothly.”

One reason the project is drawing a lot of attention from communities and power utilities throughout the country is that the facility was built in 33 working days, and went into operation on December 16 during a particularly cold spell, and immediately reduced energy costs by $17,000.

“That’s a successful project,” says Hamilton.

The project was completed with a $2.7 million budget, which included a $1.46 million grant from the Massachusetts Department of Energy Resources, under the leadership of Commissioner Judith Judson, with additional financial and technical assistance from the Department of Energy, Office of Electricity (DOE-OE) under the direction of Dr. Imre Gyuk.

“But the grants were to the town,” says Hamilton. “So we needed cooperation from the Board of Selectmen and others to get the project off the ground. You can do a project in any town at any time. But it’s the teamwork that makes a difference, and this is a team.”

Hamilton is proud that the project was completed without incurring any debt, and that SMLD will be debt-free by next year.

One of the challenges Hamilton and his SMLD crew have faced as leaders in the field is the lack of precedent in testing various aspects of the project, which has recently been tested with Sterling’s police and fire departments running on batteries for a short period of time.

“I am so proud of our SMLD crew,” says Hamilton. “They worked hard to get the project operational in just 33 days. But we couldn’t have done it without a lot of help. Anytime we made a call, we got results. When we called the DPW for help, they were there right away. The police and fire departments were incredibly patient with testing the system. This is really a great town, and we’re very lucky to have such fantastic teamwork and support. Our success is everyone’s success.”

Photo: SMLD crew installing transformer.

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