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Local communities to consider proposals for municipal solar arrays

Jake McGrath, an employee of  Collins Electric  of Chicopee, works on a solar project off Christian Lane in Whately last month.

Jake McGrath, an employee of Collins Electric of Chicopee, works on a solar project off Christian Lane in Whately last month. Purchase photo reprints »

Twenty area communities will be considering proposals to construct solar arrays on municipal land in the coming months, thanks to support from the Hampshire Council of Governments.

“It’s a highly ambitious project, and definitely unique and unprecedented in terms of the scale of it,” said Eric Weiss, the council’s sustainability director.

The council is working with three Massachusetts solar companies on 38 proposed photovoltaic projects that would generate 17.7 megawatts of power. Prospective sites include landfills, fields and municipal building rooftops in member communities.

The Council of Governments has done most of the work, Weiss said, making it easier for small towns to find out if solar is a good option for them. The towns would benefit because the arrays would produce energy needed to power municipal buildings.

“The towns are the ones in the driver’s seat,” he said.

Starting after the new year, the municipalities will review the proposals and decide whether or not to contract with the companies, which would build the arrays at no cost to the towns.

The communities include Hadley, South Hadley, Belchertown, Southampton, Williamsburg, Westhampton, Goshen, Huntington, Cummington, Ashfield, Leverett, Deerfield and others in Franklin and Hampden counties.

Proposals in Westhampton include an 878-kilowatt array on a capped landfill, a 608-kilowatt array for the roof of Hampshire Regional High School, and a 51-kilowatt array for the roof of Westhampton Elementary School.

Select Board Chairman John F. Shaw Jr. said he is looking forward to reviewing the proposals.

“We’re always willing to listen to any proposal,” he said. “And anything we don’t have to pay for, we’ll look at very seriously.”

He said the five member towns in the Hampshire Regional district would also have a say in deciding about installing solar panels on the high school.

A solar site would be a great use of the town’s former landfill, behind the highway garage and transfer station on Stage Road, he said.

“You’re very limited for what you can use that land for — you can’t build on it,” he said. “Other towns have entertained the same kind of thing for landfills, because they are wide open to the sunlight.”

Easthampton is among the Massachusetts communities to benefit from installing solar panels on capped landfills. The city has a 10-year contract with Borrego Solar Systems of Cambridge, which installed the array at no cost to the city under the condition that the city buy the electricity generated at a set price of 6 cents per kilowatt-hour.

Weiss said that like Easthampton’s project, the 38 proposed projects would be installed for free, although the contracts may not be exactly the same.

In Williamsburg, the sole proposal is for an array on water department land off South Street that would produce up to 878 kilowatts. Town Administrator Charlene Nardi said it would have been difficult for town officials to find the time to seek and vet bids for solar projects. “That’s one of the benefits of working with the Hampshire Council of Governments,” she said.

If the town accepts the proposal, it would be its second solar project on town property. The town installed a 2.5-kilowatt array on the roof of the Helen E. James School in August, Nardi said.

“There’s certainly an interest in the town of Williamsburg in installing solar wherever it is feasible,” she said.

Power potential

Weiss said the council asked member towns about a year ago to suggest locations that might be suitable for photovoltaic panels. Thirty-eight communities suggested 110 sites.

The council then asked solar companies to review the locations and submit proposals for those that could be used. “It was a long and complicated process because there were a lot of sites,” he said.

Of the five firms that submitted proposals, the council selected three to work with willing member communities. They are Ameresco Inc. in Framingham, Broadway Electric Co. Inc. in Boston, and American Capital Energy in Lowell.

In the coming months, Weiss and firm representatives will meet with town officials to present the proposals in detail. If the towns choose to go forward with any of the projects, the Hampshire Council of Governments plans to stay involved in the process, offering expertise and assistance, he said.

The council is currently coordinating a small solar array installation in Middlefield, he said.

He said he could not estimate when the first projects could be built, but it is likely to be a lengthy process because of the necessary collaboration among the companies, towns and the utility companies.

Rebecca Everett can be reached at reverett@gazettenet.com.


Proposed solar sites

Thursday, December 13, 2012

The following is a list of locations where municipal solar arrays have been proposed through a program facilitated by the Hampshire Council of Governments. Other communities where sites are being considered include Ashfield, Buckland, Erving, Gill, Middlefield, North Brookfield, Sheffield, Ware and Wilbraham. Belchertown Belchertown High School, 262 to 562 kw Wastewater treatment plant, 220 kw Swift River Elementary, 149 …

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