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Steel costs, contract issues delay 10 solar projects in Newton

The City of Newton published this rendering of Brown Middle School’s proposed solar panel parking lot canopy, which currently has no set construction date.City of Newton

High steel costs, contract issues, and problems with the supply chain due to COVID-19 have delayed construction of six large, solar-panel parking lot canopies and four smaller rooftop projects around Newton.

William Ferguson, the co-director of sustainability for the city, said they expected the projects to be completed this fall, but the firm selected to manage the remaining canopies, Macquarie Group, is renegotiating with subcontractors. He said the city is working to amend the contract with Macquarie.

“Things keep changing, hopefully they don’t change again,” he said. “Hopefully we get this amendment nailed down soon, and we’ll be able to put together a firm construction schedule very soon for the remaining Phase 3 projects.”

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Macquarie Group declined to be interviewed.

The remaining projects in Phase 3 will include six solar canopies in parking lots at the Education Center on Craft Street, Oak Hill Middle School, Memorial-Spaulding Elementary School, and Brown Middle School, as well as lots on Wheeler Road and Pleasant Street.

Last month, three other canopy projects went online as a part of Phase 3 — two at Newton North High School and one at the Newton Free Library. Ameresco, a firm based in Framingham, completed these projects as part of Newton’s original timetable for Phase 3.

Ferguson also said Phase 1 included four rooftop projects that went online in 2013, and Phase 2 added eight more sites completed in 2017. Last year, he said the city saved $538,000 from the two completed solar panel projects.

“In Phase 1 and Phase 2, the city was very motivated by the savings,” he said. “In Phase 3, we’re more motivated by trying to take responsibility in our part to reduce global warming.”

The timing of the Phase 3 Solar projects goes “hand-in-hand” with Newton’s Climate Action Plan for 2020 to 2025, Ferguson said, which set the city’s goal to be carbon neutral by 2050.

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The Newton Greenhouse Gas Inventory from 2019, according to an e-mail from the Newton Citizens Commission on Energy, showed residents were the largest contributors to greenhouse gas emissions at about 61 percent of the city’s total, while municipal emissions account for about 2.5 percent.

Halina Brown, chair of the Citizens Commission on Energy and professor emerita of environmental science and policy at Clark University, said the municipal solar projects show “intention,” but Newton will have to shift its focus to residential greenhouse gas emissions from electricity, natural gas and oil, and transportation.

“This city needs to set an example and needs to do what they can to reduce emissions from their own operations, but it’s a drop in the bucket of the overall impact that the city of Newton has,” Brown said.

In addition to reducing emissions, Ferguson said the solar panels also provide visibility for Newton’s fight against climate change.

“We’re a small piece of it, but every building owner needs to be doing something,” Ferguson said. “The city owns a lot of buildings, and we’re trying to lead by example by doing these projects.”

Michael Gevelber, a professor of engineering at Boston University who has been a member of the Citizens Commission on Energy for at least 10 years, said “the change is going to happen, I think primarily, neighbor to neighbor.”

“It is great by having that visibility,” he said. “That does help other people do those projects.”

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Ferguson said Newton hired an energy coach last year who will advise residents on reducing fossil fuel consumption. The city also implemented the Newton Power Choice program, which now provides 84 percent renewable electricity energy to residents.

Brown said many homeowners can take steps to reduce use and emissions. For instance, the Mass Save program offers subsidies and other incentives to help residents properly insulate their homes.

“This low hanging fruit is becoming less and less plentiful,” Brown said about the city’s current efforts. “At some point, they will have done what they could do already, and at this point, they will have to shift their attention toward efficiency of buildings.”

President of Green Newton Marcia Cooper said much of the responsibility to reduce emissions will fall onto the homeowner. While Newton could help set stricter rules for new construction and major renovations, the “residents should not be off the hook.”

“If they choose an EV over a gas-guzzling car, they’re making a difference. If they’re choosing to upgrade with heat pump technology for heating and cooling, they are making a difference,” Cooper said. “If they install solar on the roof, they’re making a difference.”

Molly Farrar can be reached at newtonreport@globe.com.