LANESBOROUGH, Mass. — The Selectmen are telling the town's solar consultants to continue discussion with Ameresco to develop a solar array off North Main Street.
Beacon Integrated Solutions has reviewed the responses to the request for proposal to develop such an array on town-owned land and recommended that Ameresco is chosen to use up to 13 acres of land for the photovoltaic array.
However, the Selectmen are giving the consultant approval to continue negotiating with the Ameresco regarding the amount of money the town will receive from the lease and personal property tax.
"There are a couple of tweaks to it we could make to increase the amount of money the town will get," Town Manager Paul Sieloff said.
The property is 19 acres abutting Prospect Street that the town purchased in 2007 for $225,000 with the intent to build a senior center. However, in the subsequent years, the federal funding eyed for Berkshire Housing to do so dried up and the town has been holding onto the property ever since. In 2013, the town's Energy Committee identified the spot as a prime location for an array because of its layout and proximity to power.
"The whole thing will be pretty much behind the assisted senior living," Selectman Robert Ericson, who heads the Energy Committee, said.
The plan now is to use about 13 of the 19 acres for the solar project. The rest could possibly be subdivided and sold off. It is the northern 13 acres eyed for the development with the land closest to Prospect Street being unused because of wetlands.
Selectman Henry "Hank" Sayers said he's heard concerns from Prospect Street residents about the visibility of the array, but Ericson says that won't be an issue.
"From the Prospect side it will be screened by the existing woods," Ericson said.
The proposal so far brings less to the town in revenue than previously hoped. According to Beth Greenblatt, managing director of Beacon Integrated Solutions, the proposal would bring in about $25,000 a year to town coffers. Previously, town officials hoped for between $40,000 and $60,000 per year.
But Greenblatt noted in a report to the Selectmen that "several issues remain that will have an impact on the ultimate financial offer."
Nonetheless, engaging in those negotiations brings the town a step closer to developing that land. Since 2013, the town weighed its options and the solar market fluctuated. Finally in September 2016, the town issued a request for proposals that was due on April 4.
"Ameresco's proposal offers two financial options to construct roughly one megawatt of solar capacity. The first option includes a combined lease and personal property tax payment of $22,000 per year. The second option includes the combined sale of the energy benefits from the solar array plus the personal property tax payment totaling $25,000 per year," Greenblatt wrote.
Solar has become an active industry in the town recently. Eversource was just recently approved for a large 23-acre project north of the Prospect Street property. The Planning Board has crafted a new solar bylaw as well, which is currently in the approval process. Sieloff said if Ameresco's project is approved, the company would be required to comply with those bylaws.
In other business, the Selectmen approved a $100 per month fine on businesses that fail to renew their certificates after being notified three times. The board considered a $200 fine per month after the first notice but the Selectmen thought that was too steep of a price. Ultimately, they agreed to $100 per month after the third notice instead. Only incorporated businesses are exempt from operating without one and the certificates are good for four years.
In reviewing a list of business certificates, Chairman John Goerlach noticed a number of businesses operating out of areas which are not zoned for the type of business. He is asking that the town clerk do not issue certificates to businesses who are operating out of such locations.
The Selectmen also approved a questionnaire to be included in the tax bills for the Economic Development Committee. The committee had performed an analysis on strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats (SWOT) on the town's economic development. Now it wants the townspeople to help direct its work moving forward.
"Now we are at the phase of decision making and we don't want to go at it alone," said Barbara Hassan.
The physical questionnaire will be coupled with an online one. The responses will help prioritize efforts as well as ask for input on if there are opportunities the group could have missed.
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