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Country Curtains Goes Solar

By Tammy Daniels
iBerkshires Staff
11:45PM / Friday, November 13, 2009
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Country Curtains CEO Bill Booth holds the mike for owner Jane Fitzpatrick on Friday at the dedication of the company's new solar array, seen above.  (Roof picture courtesy Country Curtains)
LEE, Mass. — The county's iconic curtain company let the sunshine in on Friday with a ceremonial flick of a switch.

Country Curtains' 100,000 square-foot headquarters and distribution facility on Pleasant Street now hosts the biggest solar array in the county. The nearly $1 million, 140-kilowatt installation will generate up to 20 percent of the building's energy needs and is expected to pay itself off in less than five years.

"We're very proud of this. This is the kind of thing we do that's kept us in business for 53 years now," said former state Sen. John "Jack" Fitzpatrick of Stockbridge shortly before flipping that switch, as wife Jane Fitzpatrick, the company's chairman, sliced through the green ribbon around the array's electrical panel.

The Fitzpatricks were joined by daughters Nancy and Ann, local dignitaries and others, along with a large group of employees decked in green. The green theme continued through the checked curtains (Country Curtains, of course) and upholstered chairs on which the Fitzpatricks were seated.

Sustainability has become a central philosophy for the Fitzpatrick family endeavors, which include The Red Lion Inn in Stockbridge and Porches inn in North Adams. In February, The Red Lion lead a panel on suppliers and sustainability at a daylong forum in Springfield on green themes and corporate responsibility.

"This family has really lead the way," said Bill Booth, chief executive officer for Country Curtains, ticking off examples such as the massive recycling of cardboard from the distribution center and the use of energy-efficient lighting. "It is part of our cultural history, it's in our bones."


John and Jane Fitzpatrick pose with Rep. William 'Smitty' Pignatelli in front of the inverters that switch the direct current from the panels into alternating current. Right, Alteris President Ron French.
"We're always trying to find ways to grow our manufacturing and also protect the environment," he said. 

Marilyn Hansen, the corporation's property manager, said Country Curtains had first looked into wind power, but it didn't seem viable for the building's location and needs. That's when she was contacted by Alteris Renewables, one of the largest renewable energy companies in the New England.

Alteris talked solar — and the lights came on, so to speak. "I was amazed how quickly everyone was on board with this," said Hensen, who shepherded the project through.

Solar energy would be a perfect fit for the flat, slightly pitched roof and the clear, unobstructed view. Some 700 photovoltaic panels were fitted to the roof in about two weeks, although the design, permitting and application for rebates through the Massachusetts Renewable Energy Trust took a bit longer.

The panels over their lifetime are expected to offset 228,733 pounds of carbon dioxide emissions are equivalent to planting 62,677 trees or burning 11,800 gallons of gasoline a year.

The installation is a five-time winner, said Alteris President Ron French, in that it not only saves energy, it also promotes jobs in green industry, helps the health of the community, reduces the draw on the electrical grid and raises awareness of the potential of alternative energy sources.


The Fitzpatricks cut the ribbon a second time for posterity.
"You're showing this is a technology you believe in and that it works," said French, who added the project is in line with Gov. Deval Patrick's goal of generating 250 megawatts through solar power by 2017.

Energy consumption has become a serious issue in the Berkshires over recent years and a continuing challenge, said state Rep. William "Smitty" Pignatelli, D-Lenox.

Wind power has dominated the alternative energy discussions, but Pignatelli said he thought maybe the "jury was still out on windmills and how they look and were they should be placed. ... solar is where we really should be spending much energy, if not more energy, than windmills."

For Carter Wilding-White, Alteris' regional director, there's an element of satisfaction in seeing his hometown taking the lead in the county's venture into solar.

"This is about raising awareness," he said. "Not only do I hope it will show companies that these applications exist but they are now aware this is appropriate for business in Berkshire County."
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