Plugging into Power of the Sun

Banner Mold & Die Co., Inc. of Leominster, Massachusettes, 978-534-6558
Leominster manufacturer ready to flip switch on solar panels.

Sentinel & Enterprise
Posted: 12/14/2012
By Jack Minch

LEOMINSTER — Using green energy is more of a business decision than it is a reaction to environmental concerns, said Joshua DeFelice, safety and facility manager at Banner Mold & Die Co. on Florence Street.

The company expects to go online with a new solar array in the coming days to meet 25 percent of its annual energy needs.

The company signed a power-purchase agreement with Revolution Energy, which hired Dynamic Solar to install four rows of solar panels behind its Florence Street plant adjacent to St. Cecilia Cemetery.

“They own the system, and they will sell the power to us,” DeFelice said.

It is a 126-kilowatt system providing 130,000 kilowatt hours a year, DeFelice said.

Banner Mold’s plant is about 50,000 square feet and is filled with industrial equipment such as drills, grinders, lathes and saws.

“There are a lot of machines in there,” Mayor Dean Mazzarella said during a tour Wednesday. “That’s huge.”

Energy costs are among the company’s biggest expenses, so DeFelice started looking for ways to save money using solar power several years ago.

“The two biggest costs of the business, besides labor, are electricity and health care, so this was an easy fix,” DeFelice said.

DeFelice signed a 20-year contract, and the panels have an estimated 25-year life span.

“They will save us money every year for 20 years, and to be environmental is a bonus,” he said.

The rates are comparable to buying from National Grid, but there are no delivery charges, DeFelice said.

Revolution owns the equipment and will sell the electricity it generates to Banner Mold.

It took time to find a suitable company with which to work, DeFelice said.

The companies he contacted were not interested in ground installation units, so the idea sat dormant until Dynamic Solar sent a flier in the mail.

“They were the first company interested in a ground-mounted installation,” DeFelice said.

Dynamic Solar spent a day studying the ground, taking soil samples to make sure the stainless steel poles will not corrode in the ground and determining how deep to get a good footing.

The final electrical connection is expected to be done today.

Revolution Energy is hoping to have the system go on-line at least for testing by the end of the month so it can get final approval from National Grid, though the Christmas holiday season could slow progress, said Michael Behrmann, a partner with the company.

“Odds are, we’ll probably be fully operational next month or in early February,” Behrmann said.

The scope of the project was limited by the space Revolution Energy had to work with, so Banner Mold will still buy most of its electricity through National Grid, he said.

Behrmann said he likes the project because it is helping an established company remain competitive in the modern market.

“Their story is a great story,” he said. “They have been there 65 years and manufacturers are the clients we love.”

Weather will not be a problem for the solar panels, DeFelice said.

Snow will melt quickly off the black surfaces and slide off, or company employees can brush them off.

Leominster Conservation Agent Joanne DiNardo was among a contingent of city officials who toured the plant Wednesday.

Solar panels work on cloudy days and at night, she said.

“Even when the moon is out you draw power,” DiNardo said.

Carlson Orchard and the city’s Sholan Farms also have solar panels, she said.

DeFelice said he lives near a proposed site for solar in Lunenburg to which neighbors had objected.

“I was getting a little upset with the attention it was getting from neighbors,” DeFelice said. “This is the best neighbor imaginable.”

Solar panels don’t add noise to the neighborhood, don’t draw added traffic on the roads and don’t require municipal services, he said.

Christopher Knuth sits on the Leominster Energy Committee examining opportunities to use solar power, and was impressed by Banner’s array of solar panels.

“This is great — an old-time company is very forward thinking,” Knuth said. “I love it.”

He appreciated being able to see a ground-mounted array because that is the type of system the city’s board is considering for potential sites such as the former landfill on Old Mechanic Street at the Leominster Connector.

The landfill has 35 to 40 acres and a consultant has said it could support a solar array on about 20 acres, Knuth said.

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