Solar project will power Montserrat College of Art

By John Laidler Globe correspondent,Updated May 25, 2022, 4:16 p.m.

A Beverly college that prepares students for careers in art and design is pitching in to support a larger cause: saving the planet.

The Montserrat College of Art is preparing to undertake a solar energy project aimed at generating the bulk of the electricity needed to operate its 18-building campus in downtown Beverly.

If Montserrat receives needed municipal and utility approvals, it plans to install solar arrays atop eight of its buildings this year, including the 19th-century Hardie building at 23 Essex St. — its primary academic facility.

“We saw it as the biggest and fastest way we could reduce our overall carbon footprint,” Kurt T. Steinberg, Montserrat’s president, said of the 400-student college’s decision to undertake the renewable energy plan.

Another driving force was the chance to substantially offset the college’s utility costs, Steinberg said. The solar arrays are projected to generate $1.3 million in energy savings for Montserrat over the projected 25-yearlife of the system.

The project will result in no long-term costs to the college, officials said, because while Montserrat is borrowing $462,544 to install the system, a $768,828 state Solar Massachusetts Renewable Target grant will cover future debt payments and operation and maintenance costs.

“It’s a good way to show our immediate neighbors and the city that we are good community partners,” added Steinberg, noting that the project aligns with Beverly’s own sustainability goals.

Even smaller-sized institutions have a role to play in fighting climate change, Steinberg said, adding that Montserrat’s project is also “a good way to give back to a community that has supported us for so long.”

The college needs approval from Beverly’s Historic District Commission to place solar panels atop the Hardie building because it is in a historic district and subject to a preservation restriction. It also needs approval from National Grid in order to sell power to the utility.

Montserrat’s 244-kilowatt solar energy system will have the capacity to power 24 average residential homes and reduce carbon emissions by 62 metric tons per year, comparable to planting 2,800 trees in downtown Beverly.

About 82 percent of the panels will be installed atop three buildings: the Hardie building, the Student Village dorm at 26 Essex St., and an academic building at 301 Cabot St. that also includes art gallery space.

Montserrat hired Haverhill-based Invaleon Technologies Corp. to install the system. The college plans to sell the power to the grid, earning credits it projects will cover most of the costs of its campus-wide electricity consumption. Invaleon is donating the solar array at one of the buildings — estimated at $25,000 in value — and another $25,000 to endow a scholarship at the college.

The college hopes to see the panels installed in late summer or fall.

“We are very excited,” Steinberg said, noting that in addition to the project’s other benefits, “we can use this as a learning tool in our curriculum. We can monitor and talk about it and make sustainability a really tangible issue on campus.”

John Laidler can be reached at laidler@globe.com.