Robert Ericson explaining that the Prospect Street land is divided by water but the solar array could still use it. The array would use the entire land.
LANESBOROUGH, Mass. — The Selectmen have given their OK to an energy committee to craft a proposal for a solar array and bring it to the voters.
The town's energy futures committee presented the Board of Selectmen with a conceptual idea of using a Prospect Street property for a 1.5 megawatt solar array which could provide about $58,000 in revenue per year.
However, the land was purchased in 2007 as a site for senior housing but federal funds dried up and that project has been on hold since.
"A lot of that funding has dried up," said Robert Ericson, who presented the proposal on Monday. "Our suggestion is that we move ahead and use the land for income."
The committee looked at a dozen town-owned land but Prospect Street was the only location suitable. The 19-acre property has two access ways, good south/southwest exposure, and has three-phase power already installed next to it. All of the other properties were either too small, could not easily connect to three-phase power or are in a floodplain.
"We could put the land to use right now and provide income," Ericson said, adding that the town could have it up and running by next year.
The committee predicts that after negotiations with a future developer, it could generate about $35,000 from leasing the land, about $10,000 in tax revenue and reduce energy costs by powering town-owned buildings by $13,000. The contract would be for 25 years.
Board of Selectmen Chairman John Goerlach asked about some 140 acres on Old Orebed Road, a former landfill, but the commit said it wouldn't be feasible.
"I am not really in support of you using this property in its whole for this," Goerlach said of the Prospect Street site and asking the committee to investigate the costs of bring three-phase power closer to the landfill.
"We have to have three-phase power within a mile because putting poles in the ground or modifying the wiring beyond three-quarters to a mile is not cost effective. It is going to cost us a fortune," Ericson said, adding the Orebed Road location is about a mile and a half away from the necessary infrastructure. "There is plenty of land, it is south facing, that's not a problem. It is just too far."
With more land on Orebed, Goerlach asked if a larger array would make up for the costs of expanding the power. Again, the committee members said a larger array would go over the state's net metering cap. But, Ericson said it would be a good building lot for a future senior center.
Of the properties looked at, only three were close enough to three-phase power. The other two, on Williamstown Road and on Bridge Street, were not feasible for other reasons. The Bridge Street Property is only 9.6 acres and only 5.2 of that is buildable because of wetlands, the committee reported. The array would need 10 to 12 acres to be feasible. The Williamstown Road land is 28.6 acres but the only access is across a town brook and a state rest area.
As the Selectmen were told by Elton Ogden, president of Berkshire Housing Development, in January the plans for the senior center are still there — just awaiting funding.
On Monday, Bill Stevens, who is the chairman of the senior housing building committee, emphasized that the senior center was voted at town meeting for Prospect Street so if the plans are changed, it should go back to the voters. Stevens also said he was upset that he was not part of the discussion prior to Monday's meeting.
Ericson said the plan would go to town meeting but only after a firm plan and warrant article were developed. At this point, he said the committee was only looking for the Selectmen's OK to move further.
"There are no proposed agreements right now," Ericson said.
Resident Barbara Hassan called for even more research before bringing it to town meeting — specifically looking to see if there were other land options such as a resident donating their land. Katherine Westwood said she wants to see a senior center on Prospect Street.
"This is land as close to Town Hall as you can get that the public owns. I would like to see us have more of a central thing. Maybe the money isn't here now but what if it comes in six or seven years," Westwood said. "I know the money is tempting and I understand that, the town needs money, but I think you have to look at the broader picture."
Selectman Robert Barton, however, said the proposal is far from complete and the board endorsed moving forward. He added that before any plan goes to town meeting, better property might be found for a senior center.
"We haven't spent a dime on anything yet," Barton said of the research conducted so far. "I am in favor of this project ramping up, getting as much input as we can get and bringing it to the town."
Selectman William Prendergast agreed, saying there "is not point in killing it right now."
With the endorsement, the committee will now continue their research and bring a full proposal for the voters to decide. The committee was recently formed and tasked with exploring energy options and find ways to reduce the town's costs. The group is one of many formed to help advert what the Selectmen see is a looming financial crisis.