All Electric: Selectmen OK Power Storage, Solar Farm At Incinerator Site

Photo: An example of a battery storage site.

Where once Belmont burned its trash will become an electrical park as the Belmont Board of Selectmen voted to install a combined battery storage facility and solar farm at the former town’s incinerator on Concord Avenue near the Lexington town line.

“That’s the beauty of this use. It’s not tall, it’s not noisy, it’s not disruptive and it will not cause issues,” said Belmont Selectmen Chair Adam Dash.

But the public will need to wait upwards to three years before the new electrical hub is up and running; the town will need to design a “cap” over the contaminated ash produced over nearly 20 years the incinerator was in operation. In addition, the town is looking at a $800,000 gap between the $3.6 million cost of the barrier and $2.8 million in a community stabilization fund to pay of the cap. 

Installed in what resemble cargo shipping containers, the battery storage units will be used to both store electricity from both the solar panels and from the electrical grid during times when energy costs are low – the middle of the night – and distribute it during “peak” hours such as the late afternoon and evening.. 

By using the entire parcel with the exception of land used by the town’s Department of Public Works, the solar segment could generate the two megawatts of electricity that would make the facility financially viable for Belmont Light, the town’s electrical utility which would manage the operation.

The selection process which began in 2017 with 17 options came down to three; the storage facility, a bike/skate play area and open space. Two more controversial uses; an anaerobic digester and a multi-rink ice skating rink, where deemed unacceptable in February by the state’s Department of Capital Assets and Management Maintainance – which transferred the site to the town in 2015 – as both would generate revenue for a third party and was not seen as a municipal use.

The open space was attractive as the town is wanting of recreational space but it is a polluted site, the topography is challenging and the DPW will actively be on site for composting and other uses. While Dash described it as a “great idea”, maintaining and cleaning a “remote” bike/skate park would be a handful as the town is overburdened with patrolling the existing inventory of parks and playgrounds. 

The battery storage/solar farm was seen as the most practical use with the greatest upside. It is a passive use, was not opposed by homeowners on the backside of Belmont Hill and has the added advantage of meeting the town’s climate action goals and both the solar array and storage units can be replaced when technology improves.

“I just love the idea of having a use that can help solve so many issues,” said Selectman Mark Paolillo who has long been a support of the energy storage concept.

In addition, Belmont will have some expertise in the installation of electrical solar power. Belmont Light General Manager Christopher Roy led the Concord utility in the building of a solar facility on an old land ll, which generates up to 1.7 megawatts of electricity. Roy also submitted data to the Belmont Selectmen of the potental of cost savings with the creation of a combined solar and storage park.