Harvesting the Sun: The Connelly Family and the Harvard Solar Garden

April 23, 2015
The ribbon is cut as the Harvard community-owned solar garden goes on line after a dedication ceremony June 27, 2014. From left: Neeve Connelly, Fiona Connely, Ruth Silman, Sean Diamond, Elizabeth Youngblood, State Representative Jen Benson, Steven Strong, Worth Robbins, State Senator Jamie Eldridge, Gerry Palano, Selectman Stu Sklar, Dwayne Breger, Meg Lusardi, Nadine Connelly, Rowan Connelly, and Elizabeth Kennedy.

Much as she would love to, Nadine Connelly does not own the home she lives in with her three young children, Rowan (3), Fiona (6) and Neeve (8). For that reason, owning a solar system to power her home seemed out of reach. However, thanks to Massachusetts pioneering virtual net metering policy, Nadine and over 100 other community members are able to purchase net metering credits from the nearby Harvard Solar Gardens (HSG), a community-shared solar project developed by Solar Design Associates in Harvard, MA. As a member of HSG, Nadine is able to save money on her electricity bill and support her children’s future by using locally-sourced renewable energy.

Nadine settled in Harvard shortly after marrying Dylan Connelly, a native to the area. Dylan graduated from the Bromfield School in Harvard and his parents, Pat and Mary Connelly, still live close by. Dylan was an early advocate for solar development in Harvard and helped to bring the Harvard Solar Gardens from dream to reality. In late 2012, however, he was diagnosed with an aggressive form of brain cancer and passed away shortly thereafter.

While Dylan didn’t live long enough to see the completion of the Harvard Solar Gardens, his memory and efforts live on through the project; and his children are reminded of him every time they see solar panels. “The sun brings Dylan into our lives, “says Nadine. “Every time the children see a house or building with solar they say, ‘There’s more solar!’ and they get excited because they know their father was part of that.

The Harvard Solar Gardens were developed in two phases. The first phase, Harvard Solar Garden 1, broke ground early in the spring of 2014 and the second phase started construction later that year once it was fully subscribed.

When Harvard Solar Garden 1 came online in June of 2014, it was the first member-owned community shared solar installation in Massachusetts, developed with support from the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center, the Department of Energy Resources, Senator Jamie Eldridge, Representative Jen Benson, and a handful of tremendously committed residents, including Dylan, as well as hundreds of local supporters. Today, the Harvard Solar Gardens are owned by around 100 members and have a total capacity of 524kW. Members include businesses, renters, and many homeowners with shady roofs. Thanks to virtual net metering, HSG members receive a share of the net metering credits generated by the solar panels on their National Grid electricity bill every month.

Dylan’s involvement in HSG started early on, while the community was searching for a suitable location for the project. At the time, community shared solar had been tried in just a few places around the country. However, in the years since Dylan first became involved in the Harvard Solar Gardens, community shared solar has grown dramatically and Massachusetts is now the fastest growing market for community shared solar in the country. Unfortunately, Dylan was unable to see this project to completion and he passed in July 2013 from brain cancer. He was 30 years old, a devoted husband and father as well as an avid mountain biker. Dylan will always be remembered for his efforts in moving the Harvard Solar Gardens forward and his dedication to his hometown.

Almost a year after Dylan’s death, in June of 2014, the Harvard Solar Garden 1 went online. Nadine and her children attended the opening ceremony to help cut the ribbon along with town and state officials. At the ribbon cutting, Nadine and her family received a gift of three membership shares in the Harvard Solar Gardens from Dylan’s parents and some of his friends in the mountain biking community “We’re very happy to be a part of the Harvard Solar Gardens and I know Dylan would be too,” says Nadine. “I wish I could do more to bring solar to more people like Dylan was doing and help other solar gardens grow. But right now, I am focused on raising our three children. The Harvard Solar Garden helps with that by lowering our electricity bill and saving our family money.

Story by: Eric Broadbent and Haskell Werlin