Lanesborough Weighing Solar Power Vs Senior Housing

By Andy McKeeveriBerkshires Staff
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The Selectmen on Monday night debated the possibility of a solar array to bring new revenue versus a senior housing project being considered for the same site.

LANESBOROUGH, Mass. — The Selectmen are weighing a decision to forgo plans for a new senior center on Prospect Street in favor of a solar array.

A town energy committee has been touring properties with Adams' Berkshire PhotoVoltaic Services and Hancock's EOS Ventures to find an avenue to find a suitable spot for an array.

After finding many town-owned lands unsuitable, the Prospect Street property fits the bill.

However, the town purchased the property in 2007 for $225,000 for a new senior center and senior housing. Elton Ogden, president of Berkshire Housing Development, prepared plans for the housing component but those have been shelved while waiting for federal funding.

On Monday, Ogden told the Selectmen that the plans are still on file but the overhauled funding source has yet to be approved by Congress. The organization still feels that property is a good fit for seniors and Ogden is confident the funding will eventually return.

"I think it would be unfortunate to forgo any development opportunity for solar panels," Ogden said.

Ogden displayed plans that would use the majority of the 19 acres; but because of the lack of funding, there is no timeline of when it could be done.

"This would be a very good project for the town. It would help the seniors. It is doable once the funding comes back around," Ogden said, adding that he "wouldn't be here right now" if he wasn't confident that funding will return.

On the other hand, the town could see immediate benefits from a solar array. Town Administrator Paul Sieloff said the committee has been given a proposal for a solar array that would generate about $58,000 a year for the town through a lease agreement with the land, taxes and a reduction in energy costs. The lease would be for 15 years.

"Every year, it will be substantial revenue for the town," said Sieloff, who in a later discussion about the upcoming budget stressed the need for additional revenue.

The Selectmen discussed a possible sharing of the land but the solar array would need nearly the entire property to be economically feasible.

Chairman John Goerlach suggested that while the town's former gravel pit is not close to three-phase power and was ruled out, the some 60 acres available could make it advantageous to bring the power there. That would allow the senior housing on Prospect Street.

But Selectmen Robert Barton suggested that there are other properties on the market — the former Vacation Village for example — which would be better to build senior housing on. The monies generated from the solar array could go to purchasing another property for the housing project.

"I wouldn't want to walk away from finding a better spot for senior housing," Barton said. "But I also don't want to walk away from $58,000 a year for 25 years."

If the Selectmen support the solar option, it would still have to go to voters at town meeting, so without a need for an immediate decision they postponed the conversation. Ogden said he would like to be involved in the discussions moving forward.

Tags: alternative energy,   municipal project,   senior housing,   solar array,   solar project,   

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