GREENFIELD — Within a few months of moving to Greenfield, William “Bill” Ashley reached out to the solar energy company on Wells Street and inquired about installing solar panels on his roof.
“The property was set up for that,” he said of Green River Commons, the townhouse condominium complex on Deerfield Street. “They said, ‘How many?’ I said, ‘However many you can get up there safely.’”
An environmental advocate, Ashley became a homeowner for the first time at age 77, allowing him, also for the first time, the ability to explore solar as a source of energy. Around the same time, he said, he took out a lease on an electric vehicle.
“Climate disruption is what’s really on my mind,” he said.
Ashley, now 81 years old, wants to spread the wealth, so to speak. Working with PV Squared, Ashley has donated solar panels to various projects in Hampshire and Franklin counties; in particular, he has worked with Pioneer Valley Habitat for Humanity on some of its projects, including one in Conway.
Looking to also increase municipal access to solar, Ashley began by creating a list that ranked towns based on both population and per capita income. Once the list was complete, he delivered letters to each of the “top” 18 towns, in the order they were ranked, outlining for officials his offer to sponsor solar panels at no cost to the town. In return, he asked for the address of the prospective municipal building, the type and age of its roof, and the recent electric bill for that address.
“The populous and the wealthy, they can do it themselves,” he said. “They’ve got the capacity and the funds to do it.”
Ashley said he’s willing to donate up to $35,000 toward the cost of solar panel installation per municipality, though he clarified he acts as a sponsor of projects, writing the check to PV Squared rather than the community.
“Sometimes I never heard back at all [from town officials],” he said. “But people started responding.”
Towns that have been receptive and are at some stage in the process include Warwick, which had panels installed on its Highway Department garage, Ashley said, with Wendell also now in the pipeline.
Most recently, however, PV Squared installed solar panels on Greenfield’s Department of Public Works administrative office building at 189 Wells St., making it the city’s first net-zero building, according to Director of Energy and Sustainability Carole Collins. Net zero describes a qualification that refers to the balance between the amount of greenhouse gas that is produced and the amount that’s removed from the atmosphere.
“For me, it’s a dream come true,” said Collins. “When we built the building … the goal was to make it an incredibly efficient or high-performance building. It was basically what we call solar-ready, with the goal of having — at some point in the future — solar panels on the roof, and those would provide all the energy needed throughout the year.”
PV Squared Design & Sales Consultant Josh Hilsdon said the worker-owned cooperative was pleased to partner with Ashley and the city for the installation project, just down the road from its store on Wells Street.
“Seeing this project will surely bring a smile to our faces as we pass by, and we hope the people of Greenfield and the DPW workers will be similarly proud to see clean, renewable energy being generated from the DPW office roof,” Hilsdon said.
While it isn’t yet net zero, the new Greenfield Public Library building, which also has solar panels, is all electric and “net-zero ready,” she said. In addition to the library and the DPW building, the John Zon Community Center is fully electric, and the new fire station will be fully electric once it’s operational.
“We’re doing incredibly well in terms of taking the steps necessary to eliminate fossil fuel use,” she said.
Collins said she is grateful to Ashley for his generosity.
“This is a one-time project, but we’ve basically eliminated the utility bill for this building for the future,” she said, noting the DPW building’s annual total for electricity usually comes to about $3,000. “It’s great to see this [dream] come to be with Bill’s generosity.”
Reporter Mary Byrne can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 413-930-4429. Twitter: @MaryEByrne.