Danny LeBlanc (left) and DeWitt Jones with solar panels on the roof of St. Polycarp

Solar Made Simple

Solar on St. Polycarp, Somerville, Massachusetts

“I’ve been in Somerville for 40 years,” says Danny LeBlanc, Executive Director of the Somerville Community Corporation (SCC). “When I moved here, rents were cheap. But we’ve watched that slip away; affordable housing options have almost disappeared, so it’s harder and harder for people to find homes here that they can afford. If we want to preserve our economic, racial and ethnic diversity, we have to build and maintain as much affordable housing as possible.”

So that’s what SCC is doing, for instance, transforming a former parish campus into St. Polycarp Village, a three-phase project that includes four new apartment buildings, “creating a new village of affordable housing.” A modern, energy efficient village, thanks to SCC’s partnership with BlueHub Capital.

“As an organization, we’re dedicated to making our housing as environmentally friendly and energy efficient as possible. Aside from the moral benefits of being energy efficient, there are concrete economic benefits to our organization and to our tenants. We added solar panels to phase one of St. Polycarp Village as part of our initial construction, but we didn’t have the funding for the other two phases,” LeBlanc explains.

BlueHub Capital, then known as Boston Community capital, stepped in, installing solar panels at both St. Polycarp II and III. BlueHub Capital owns the panels, and covers the cost of installation and maintenance. The solar generates net metering credits, which can be applied to a customer’s utility bill—or sold to other customers. BlueHub Capital sells these credits to St. Polycarp at a 20% discount; St. Polycarp then uses the credits to offset their electrical bills, cutting their costs by 20%.

Solar panels on the Phase II building generate enough net metering credits to cover 90% of the building’s electric bill—and the system at the St. Polycarp III building is large enough to cover its bill and provide a surplus.

LeBlanc smiles. “Those extra net metering credits are being passed on to one of our other developments that is not suitable for solar, and that is a financially difficult project to sustain—housing for the formerly homeless.”

LeBlanc considers those energy savings a blessing—as he does the relationship with BlueHub Capital. “I feel like we’re working with kindred spirits." BlueHub Capital, he says, "is one of a small group of intermediaries who really understand what we do and support it both personally and financially.”

He continues, “They have put tremendous effort into figuring out exactly how solar can benefit affordable housing. That’s not something we—or other organizations like us—have the bandwidth to do on our own. We just wouldn’t have gotten there.”

  Photo credit: Marilyn Humphries