Lanesborough Reviving Solar Array Idea

By Andy McKeeveriBerkshires Staff
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Committee members Robert Ericson, Jack Hickey and Gordon Zaks met with Donna French, Marie Johndro and Al King from Viridian on Wednesday.
LANESBOROUGH, Mass. — A town committee is trying to revive a plan to install a solar array on Prospect Street.
The town's Energy Futures Committee met with representatives from the power company Viridian, which has a partnership with Solar City, on Wednesday to discuss options for the property.
Early last year, the committee requested proposals to develop a portion of the 19-acre parcel into a 1.5 megawatt system but the project fell flat.
"With the last solar project, only one company responded formally and we basically just broke even," said committee member and Selectmen Robert Ericson. "We had five or six companies express interest."
The committee crafted a proposal that they envisioned would save the town $58,000 annually. The proposal would have generated about $35,000 from leasing the land, $10,000 in tax revenue for the equipment and $13,000 in reduced energy cost.
The group said companies had been interested but by the time the request for proposals was completed and permission received from voters, the financials had changed or companies got tied up doing other projects. The tax incentives also had grown to be less valuable as the program neared expiration.
"With the one proposal, we had to buy the energy for 20 years up front. Obviously that was not a good deal," said committee member Gordon Zaks. "Two other companies said they couldn't make the numbers work."
The Prospect Street land is the only place an array could go, the committee determined after an exhaustive look at town-owned land. The town purchased that land in 2007 with the intent to build a senior center but the federal dollars for it had dried up. Berkshire Housing Corp. still maintains that a housing project will eventually be there.
With enough room for both, voters agreed last year to move forward with a solar array on about five acres of the land. With a renewed tax incentive program, the committee is again looking for an array.
This time it is widening the options.
On Wednesday, the committee asked Solar City and Viridian to lay out three types of options. 
The town could pursue the option tried before in which the company would own the array and sell the energy generated while leasing the space from the town. 
Another option would be for the town to buy electricity from the company at a reduced rate.
Or, the town can purchase and own the array, in which the town would sell power back to the grid and power its own buildings.
"The hardest thing is to decide from the town's point of view, not only the best deal but what the taxpayers will tolerate," Zaks said, adding that receiving voter approval to borrow $3 million for an array would be much more difficult than other options.
Wednesday's meeting kicked off the town's new relationship with Solar City and Viridian, which sells the energy. A project manager with Solar City will help the town look deeper into the other solar options not in the previous request as well as craft another lease proposal crunching the new tax incentive numbers.
"The intriguing thing is that they can give us a proposal in three ways," Zaks said.

Tags: alternative energy,   solar array,   

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