Bringing Solar to the City: Fighting Climate Change in Somerville

By Hillary Magee, Mass CEC Intern at Sunwealth

A shot of Davis Square, our new home, on a summer afternoon.

A shot of Davis Square, our new home, on a summer afternoon.


The city of Somerville is home to a myriad of descendants of early settler and immigrant families spanning the globe from Haiti and Brazil to the Mediterranean. Settled in 1630, this historic city educates more than 4,900 students annually while boasting an impressive retention rate compared to neighboring cities, even while a significant proportion of students depend on free or reduced lunches. What’s more is that Somerville makes its primary mark in environmental consciousness, the topic on today’s collective mind.

A robust set of programs and incentives exist for residents wanting to engage in true, long-term environmental change. The city promotes several impact-oriented initiatives, including:

  1. Discounted tumbler composters. Composters reduce the amount of organic material flowing in our waste stream. They eliminate the opportunity for the daring household pest and, not to mention, create pounds of nutrient-rich gardening soil. This means more green-thumbs around Somerville and a compositional transformation in the contents of our trash. A significant percentage of our trash is made up of recyclables and compostable material, composting can knock out a considerable portion of the problem.
  2. Electronic waste recycling program. Residents can drop off items ranging from computers and telephones to microwaves and blenders at the local DPW free of charge during the week. The program provides one centralized location for ethical disposal of items that are ordinarily chucked at the dumpster or rolled out to the curb on trash day. 
  3. Heatsmart/Coolsmart Somerville. Organizations like MassSave and the MassCEC offer rebates for residents interested in swapping out their natural gas fueled heating and cooling units for clean and efficient heat pumps. Residents can save hundreds with the use of rebates, receive a considerable discount percentage on installer prices, and, if income-eligible, qualify for a loan from the city’s Rehab Program to finance the project itself.

These programs are in response to Mayor Joseph Curtatone’s call for action on climate change. Heavier rains, rising sea levels and temperatures, and longer droughts pose risks to our local ecosystems, food production and water supply. The Mayor proposes we set our sights on a goal of carbon net-neutrality by 2050, a necessary step to protect the livelihood of future generations and reverse what has already been impacted by climate change.

You might be asking, “Where does Sunwealth come in?” Well, we specialize in helping the city cut utility costs at important establishments like schools, libraries and town halls.  We do it by owning and operating solar installations in and around Somerville – such as the rooftop installation on Greentown Labs.  These installations provide renewable power to the grid and produce Net Metering Credits, which we sell to the City of Somerville and act as coupons towards the City’s energy bill, helping the city save money on its energy expenses and meet its long-term goal of carbon net-neutrality.

I spoke with Oliver Sellers-Garcia, the city’s Sustainability Officer, and was left with a feeling of accomplishment from his words. “Working with Sunwealth, we are able to save money on our electric bills and help finance the construction of renewable energy in our region,” he said. “We plan to use the savings to invest directly in reducing our emissions—as an alternative to generating it on-site.”  Somerville is on board with Mayor Curtatone’s plan and Sunwealth backs it one project at a time.

We are proud to call Somerville home and continue to build on our journey in the fight against climate change, our biggest competitor. Or is it our biggest motivator? We welcome you to learn more about our mission below and help us answer the biggest question of our time: How will we put an end to climate change?

Jon Abe