Derry dedicates new solar farm to longtime supporter

JULIE HUSS/Staff photoA new solar powered project at the Derry Transfer Station was celebrated in a ceremony May 15. The new solar farm was dedicated to the memory of Tom Minnon, a community supporter of energy and environmental sustainability and savings. Minnon's widow, Hope, helped cut the ribbon during the ceremony at the transfer station.

DERRY — A man with a vision to conserve energy while promoting sustainability was honored as Derry celebrated its new solar project at the town transfer station.

In a ceremony held May 15 under rainy skies, community officials and leaders gathered to celebrate the new solar panel project now operational at the transfer station off Fordway.

The solar project was dedicated to the memory of longtime energy savings supporter Tom Minnon, who died three years ago to the day of the ceremony.

His widow Hope was on hand for the ribbon-cutting event.

The new solar project showcases a new 86.4 kilowatt photovoltaic tracking system that will produce more than 156 megawatt hours of electric power per year, representing about 4 percent of the town's total annual electricity usage.

Public Works Director Mike Fowler said the solar panel work got its start in early 2017 when an initiative was launched to determine what town buildings would be most suitable for a possible solar project installation.

The transfer station was deemed the best location, Fowler said, with 10 ground-mounted tracking devices placed at the site, each holding 24 360-watt solar panels. Granite State Solar of Bow installed the solar panels.

The 10 trackers will follow the path of the sun throughout the day to significantly increase production compared to a fixed-style solar array, Granite State Solar co-owner Erik Shifflett said.

"They are also designed with New England weather in mind," Shifflett added. "The systems will lay flat during heavy winds and in the winter, they shed show automatically. We were honored and delighted to be chosen to do this project."

Fowler said the town will reap many solar rewards.

"This solar project utilizes a state-of-the-art dual-axis tracking system that provides up to 45 percent more usable energy than fixed solar panels," Fowler said. "It's estimated that this system will provide three times lower energy costs than conventional power over the expected 25-year life of the system."

Fowler added the transfer station was the perfect spot for the project, "because of its ideal exposure and because it can share production between the transfer station and other facilities including the wastewater treatment plant."

He said the town's annual electricity cost saving is project to be approximately $20,000 annually.

And dedicating the solar project to Minnon is an added bonus.

"He was a true visionary and leader," said Maureen Reno, who served alongside Minnon on the town's Energy/Environmental Advisory Committee. "He wanted to educate future generations and solar was his passion."

Minnon helped begin that energy group and served as its first leader. He also spearheaded the town's Junior Solar Sprint competition for middle school students that is still held annually.

Minnon also helped bring awareness to the environment while finding ways to save money on a personal level. His home on Datillo Road was often the site of tours promoting "green" living and other sustainable measures.

He worked to make his 2,400-square-foot home an example of what can be done to help the environment while saving money, investing about $150,000 in green technology.

The home had Energy Star appliances, a geothermal heat pump, rain barrels, recycled materials on the roof, bamboo flooring, wool carpeting and a kitchen recycling center. He had a wildlife habitat in front of his home, featuring a koi pond and many indigenous flowers, shrubs and trees. Minnon often led seminars at Derry Public Library to teach people how to make their homes energy efficient.

"More and more people are doing this," Minnon told the Derry News several years ago. "And there's a lot of payback. I'm not burning oil, I'm not buying foreign oil. To me, that's important."

The solar project is a success story for Derry, officials said.

Town Councilor Joshua Bourdon, also a member of the Net Zero Task Force, said the solar project would help support the town and save money, adding the town is taking great steps in its efforts to save energy and costs for the taxpayer, by pursuing many energy efficient capital improvement projects in town buildings like windows, doors, insulation, and lighting upgrades.

A plaque will be placed near the solar project as a dedication to Minnon's efforts in the community.  

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