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Solar panels on the roof of the Westhampton Public Library now generating power for library needs — and more

  • Solar panels line the roof of the Westhampton Public Library on Thursday afternoon, January 3, 2013.<br/><br/>SARAH CROSBY

    Solar panels line the roof of the Westhampton Public Library on Thursday afternoon, January 3, 2013.

    SARAH CROSBY Purchase photo reprints »

  • Solar panels line the roof of the Westhampton Public Library on Thursday afternoon, January 3, 2013.<br/><br/>SARAH CROSBY

    Solar panels line the roof of the Westhampton Public Library on Thursday afternoon, January 3, 2013.

    SARAH CROSBY Purchase photo reprints »

  • Solar panels line the roof of the Westhampton Public Library on Thursday afternoon, January 3, 2013.<br/><br/>SARAH CROSBY
  • Solar panels line the roof of the Westhampton Public Library on Thursday afternoon, January 3, 2013.<br/><br/>SARAH CROSBY

“It’s exciting!” said Library Director Lynn Keating. “We designed the building with the idea that these panels could be added in. We’re hoping we will produce more power than we need and credits can be applied to other buildings in town.”

Municipal leaders say the solar array at the library is a test run for sustainable energy projects being eyed for other parts of town.

Under an initiative launched by the Hampshire Council of Governments, Westhampton is reviewing proposals from three solar companies to construct photovoltaic arrays at the municipal landfill, Hampshire Regional High School and Westhampton Elementary School. Those projects would be built at no cost to the town.

“Because we’re looking at those other solar projects, the library project will give us a reading on how well this does” at producing energy, said John Shaw Jr., chairman of the town Select Board. “We don’t tend to get much sun at this time of year but the way the library building sits on the site, any sun out there at all, it will draw in.”

The solar panels are the final phase of the town library project, an eight-year labor of love by a host of community volunteers.

After voters in 2005 and 2006 turned down a tax increase to pay for a new library building, supporters launched a series of creative fundraisers, including the Great Pumpkin Roll at the annual Fall Festival. Eventually, they raised enough in contributions and grants to fund a new $2.1 million library building on North Road.

Last year, in time for the building’s one-year anniversary, library leaders learned the Westhampton library had won a Gold rating from the U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design program.

The LEED certification came with a $100,000 incentive grant which paid for the 14.5-kilowatt solar array on the roof, said Phil Dowling, chairman of the library Building Committee. The panels ended up costing around $60,000, he said.

Western New England Power Company also provided a grant of $20,000 to help pay for the library’s energy-efficient lighting and heating systems — features that helped the building earn its LEED award, Dowling said.

“The whole building has been a learning tool from the standpoint of energy efficiency,” he said. “With the solar panels, we’re generating electricity all day long at the library. We’ll get an electric bill that will reflect that. It’s wicked cool!”

Posts from local residents on the library’s Facebook page on Dec. 31, 2012, the day the solar panels went live, said much the same.

“Hooray!!!” posted Diane Thornton.

“Yipeee!” wrote Sarah KillKelley Mulvehill.

“Now that’s a unique and impressive status update!” said Holly Hargraves.

The library’s Facebook page also links to a website tracking how much electricity the panels are generating. By Jan. 10, the library’s array had generated a total of 612 kilowatt hours, according to the site at www.solrenview.com.

One kilowatt hour of energy is equivalent to what a consumer would be billed for leaving a 100-watt light bulb on for 10 hours, according to Eric Weiss, administrator of the Hilltown Resource Management Cooperative, which is working with the Hampshire Council of Governments on the proposed solar projects for Westhampton and other communities. The average American home uses approximately 950 to 1000 kilowatt hours of electricity per month, he said.

Shaw, of the town Select Board, called the green energy the library is now producing a “plus” for Westhampton. “But the biggest plus is to have this building up and running,” he added. “It’s a busy place.”

Dowling, whose committee is preparing to disband now that the library’s solar project is complete, agreed.

“I’m hoping that at some point, somebody will write a book about the new library,” he said. “The whole process has been amazing.”

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