Meadow Ridge Senior Living Pursues $2.7 million Solar Project

A small but mighty group of residents at Redding’s Meadow Ridge senior living community have big plans for the future. They want to bring solar power to their buildings, lowering energy costs and investing in a greener tomorrow.
January '22

REDDING — A small but mighty group of residents at Redding’s Meadow Ridge senior living community have big plans for the future. They want to bring solar power to their buildings, lowering energy costs and investing in a greener tomorrow.

Susan Auslander had just come from a meeting with Meadow Ridge’s executive director on a Thursday afternoon when she gathered with the resident Solar Committee in a brightly lit conference room. The 87 year-old committee chairwoman said she had some interesting news to share.

The committee has played a significant role in bringing a $2.7 million solar power project to the community over the past five years. Housed under the building committee, the solar team meets up to talk renewable energy.

With the help of a $787,000 grant from Eversource, the community will eventually install a ground-mounted and fenced solar panel array. They aim to have shovels in the ground by August of 2023. The project is in the bidding process, according to Auslander.

The new solar array will be located in one of two south-facing sites — either behind the farm and tennis court on the property, or in a lower portion of the meadow to the left of the community’s main driveway. The large array is expected to bring more than $200,000 in energy cost savings to the campus.

With 415 apartments spread over 136 acres in Redding, the campus is the largest employer and biggest taxpayer in town. Another 20 one- and two-bedroom apartments are set for completion in the new year.

“We’re not just sitting around and waiting to shuffle off to Buffalo, or graduate, as I like to say,” Auslander said. “I’ll be 88 in February which kind of amazes me every time I think about it.”

Makings of a stellar solar team.

Auslander, who has been a resident at Meadow Ridge for nearly five years, said that when she first arrived on the campus, people were already talking about solar.

There had been a study conducted years ago, but not much was done with the information. Auslander realized how hefty the electricity bill was at the sprawling Meadow Ridge campus — roughly $1.5 million — and saw an opportunity. She decided to make a move.

“I like to organize people, so we organized and we talked about solar — what it could do for us,” she said.

A cohort of around eight people, or “Solars,” as Auslander called them in an email, now help out with the committee, going on field trips to see nearby solar arrays at other facilities, researching, meeting with First Selectman Julia Pemberton, and advising Meadow Ridge’s own leadership teams to make their solar dreams a reality.

Auslander sends out emails “every time there is something green in the news,” said member Carol Morgan.

The members were excited to see forward progress with the solar array.

“We kept pushing and pushing and pushing,” said Robert Beeby, a committee member and former business CEO. “This is a big change. A big change. It isn’t putting up a McDonald’s on the corner. No, this is a major installation of advanced technology, and a reduction in our carbon output.”

Peggy Southard, originally from Hong Kong but a Redding resident for about half a century, said management had not been keen on discussing solar for a long time. That changed recently, in part due to new management.

The community was partially acquired earlier this year by Benchmark, a senior living services provider based in Massachusetts. Benchmark now runs all on-site operations.

It helps that the finances are favorable towards solar — the owners will get a 26 percent tax credit with a new array, too.

The new executive director, Chris Barstein, who took over in December 2020, has been on board with the solar project.

“I think he was a little startled by how activist the residents are here,” Auslander said.

Dan Sharp, another resident on the solar committee who helped found the Peace Corps as a young man, was on the building committee with Auslander before getting involved with the solar team. Sharp knows a thing or two about solar energy, as he had 45 panels on his roof in Stamford before coming to Meadow Ridge.

“We began to realize that not only could we save money, which we hoped would flow to the residents because we pay for the energy here, but that it would be good for marketing to show that Meadow Ridge is a cutting-edge community,” Sharp said.

An active community.

The solar committee isn’t the only committee these residents are part of.

Sharp has racked up more than eight committee memberships, but jokes that he’s “retiring” from four this year. Southard’s part of four. There’s a foreign affairs discussion group with 89 people signed up, the residents said.

“There isn’t a subject that you can think of that we don’t have a group engaged in here,” Beeby said.

But when it came to the solar project, the residents emphasized over and over their focus on the future.

Beeby said the group isn’t doing it for themselves, but for future generations, for “the people who come after us.”

They also hope that Meadow Ridge can serve as a flagship for other solar projects throughout Benchmark’s portfolio of senior living communities. Beeby hopes it might even inspire Redding residents to get their own solar panels.