Turning Sunlight Into Cash

March 25, 2015

PHOTO: Mary Schwalm


By Mike LaBella


HAVERHILL — Generating electricity from sunlight is a growing trend in the city.


It started a few years ago with the installation of a large solar farm on lower Hilldale Avenue, then a smaller array on the roof of the Citizens Center, and then a large array on the roof of the Leewood Building in the Newark Street industrial park. 


Earlier this month, the owner of a large piece of land on Upper Hilldale Avenue asked the city's permission to set up a solar farm there. Then Mayor James Fiorentini announced the city is looking to lease a section of its old landfill on Groveland Road to a solar company. 


Now a former city councilor is bringing solar power to the downtown, where panels have been installed on the roof of one building with more such projects to come. 


Sven Amirian, who gave up his seat on the council to become president of the Greater Haverhill Chamber of Commerce and then left that job to work for MassAmerican Energy LLC, said his company's first commercial solar energy system in the downtown has been installed on the roof of the Landmark Building, 76 Merrimack St.


"We are under contract with Haverhill Bank to install on their Merrimack Street branch and the Veterans Northeast Outreach Center to do several of their buildings in the Mount Washington district," Amirian said, referring to plans for more solar arrays.


Amirian, vice president of business development for MassAmerican Energy, a Massachusetts company, said the solar system on the Landmark Building is visible to drivers crossing the Basiliere Bridge from Bradford to Haverhill. It consists of more than 400 solar panels with a total system size of 113 kilowatts, he said.


It will produce 125,000 kilowatt hours of electricity per year on average, he said.


"Just in Haverhill, there are 30 ... commercial roofs where solar systems could be installed," Amirian said, noting that several buildings downtown could be candidates, but generally larger buildings, such as those in Haverhill's business parks, would generate the largest returns on investment.


Amirian said commercial solar installations are popular, partly because it's a technology understood by financiers and also because of state and federal incentives that make it an attractive investment.


For nonprofit groups such as the Veterans Northeast Outreach Center, financing packages are available that allow for the installation of solar panels with no money down. The systems are cash-flow positive as soon as they are installed, he said.


The Landmark Building and its solar array are managed by City North Development LLC, a commercial real estate management firm with holdings in Maine, Massachusetts and New Hampshire.


"While City North is certainly committed to the environment, the decision to install solar at our facility was driven by the lucrative underlying economics," said Gerry McSweeney, City North's chief operating officer. "This solar system not only saves us money by generating electricity, but because of state and federal incentives, it actually produces a recurring revenue stream."


McSweeney said the solar array will offset more than half of the common electric meter use in the building. 


MassAmerican Energy officials said that some of the unique benefits of a solar system come from a Federal 30 percent investment tax credit and the state’s Solar Renewable Energy Certificate program. With these incentives and the value of the electricity produced by the solar panels, internal rates of return on investment of 35 percent and higher are common, the officials said. This particular solar system will pay for itself in less than four years, they said.


Amirian said that on average, these kinds of commercial solar arrays pay for themselves in 2 1/2 to four years.


"At that point, you have a power plant on your roof that is making you money every day," he said. "There's also a 30 percent federal tax credit on the entire cost of the system. So if you buy a $1 million commercial solar system, you'll get a $300,000 tax credit. That credit can be used to offset your previous year's taxes, and can also be carried forward for 19 years."


The addition of a solar system to the downtown Landmark Building further underscores an already high-profile building which is home to a several prominent local businesses including Career Resources and the Greater Haverhill Chamber of Commerce. 


Chamber President Stacey Bruzzese said the partnership that made the solar project possible consists entirely of chamber members. 


"Not only are MassAmerican Energy and City North active members of our Chamber,'' she said, "but so too is the finance partner, Bank of New England.''




Call Sven at (978) 360-4063 Today!
Sven Amirian

Vice President, Business Development

MassAmerican Energy, LLC

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