My Turn: In Franklin, solar power is a significant bright spot

As originally published in the Concord Monitor: Here

Eight-and-a-half megawatts – enough energy to power approximately 1,000 homes – that’s our goal. That may not sound like a lot, but it would be a historic achievement for New Hampshire and a very big deal for the city of Franklin. Let me explain.

In what has become the largest municipal solar project of its kind in state history, Franklin is undertaking an effort to develop two times the current amount of residential and commercial solar energy output that is presently accessible across our entire state. Nobody said this would be easy, but we are ready for the challenge. It’s a model that would provide Franklin with a sustainable revenue stream for the next 20 years, and something that visiting presidential candidates would be wise to study.

For decades, it was conventional wisdom that renewable energy investment wasn’t sound economic sense for businesses or consumers. However, solar’s evolution over the past 10 years has been nothing short of amazing. Falling prices and climbing demand have brought photovoltaic costs relatively even with traditional fossil fuel power sources, such as coal and even natural gas in some places. In 2014, nearly $11 million was invested on solar installations in New Hampshire, and if trends continue, we are likely to see New Hampshire continue to lead the way in renewable development long into the future.

In addition to a competitive presidential primary, the Granite State has always been home to a vast array of bountiful natural resources. For generations, residents and visitors have hiked our mountains, skied our slopes, sailed on our waters and fished in our streams. While being routinely enjoyed, one natural resource – our sunlight – has been relatively untapped as a means by which we can sustain much of our local energy needs.

Utilizing the sun as a means of acquiring and retaining energy makes good fiscal sense as well because it’s something that helps everybody. From the consumer to the taxpayer to even those looking for work, renewable energy development now carries the potential to create revenue streams where municipalities such as Franklin have not had them in the past. And according to Citizens for Responsible Energy Solutions, a pro-energy, pro-free market policy organization, 80 percent of New Hampshire primary voters believe developing more traditional and renewable energy sources is a high priority. Fifty-seven percent favor federal action to reduce carbon dioxide emissions that cause climate change. For these voters, a focus on solar and other renewable energy development is a win-win, for both our natural environment and our free market.

Some plots of municipal land in our city have remained relatively underutilized. We expect that they will soon be home to the final pieces of Franklin’s sustainable solar garden project, which will enable us to expand our tax base and realize nearly $100,000 annually in revenue and cost savings. Doubling the amount of energy derived from solar infrastructure is an ambitious but necessary goal that Franklin is proud to champion on behalf of our entire state.

Presidential candidates of both parties are welcome to visit Franklin to see this common sense, free market process in action; but more importantly I invite them to be proactive in outlining their vision for America’s renewable future, just as our own Sen. Kelly Ayotte has be doing in Washington. Not only is it important to our state and America’s clean energy future, but it is also something New Hampshire voters are likely to reward them for as well.

(Ken Merrifield is mayor of Franklin and previously served as the vice chairman of the New Hampshire Republican Party.)

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