Mayor Richard Alcombright prepares to cut a ceremonial electric cord on Tuesday morning at the 3.5 MW solar array at the landfill. With him are Michael Nuvallie, left, Michael Canales, Timothy Lescarbeau, Energy Resources Deputy Commissioner Dan Burgess, Ross Vivori and Sen. Benjamin Downing.
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — The city "cut the cord" figuratively to power dependency on oil Tuesday with the celebration of the new 3.5 megawatt solar array at the old landfill.
Some 6,000 panels were soaking up the sun as officials gathered at the crest of the facility to mark its opening that, with the city's agreements with two other 650 kilowatt systems, could save taxpayers up to $400,000 a year.
"These three systems are expected to offset all of the power used by the city's municipal buildings and infrastructure ... City Hall, the library, street lights, schools, and the state-owned, city-operated skating rink," Mayor Richard Alcombright said. "This will, hopefully, make this city 100 percent solar powered. ...
"The beauty about this project is it didn't cost the city a dime."
The $9 million array is believed to be the largest in Western Massachusetts (so far) and has taken years to bring to fruition. An initial attempt to site possible arrays at the landfill, airport and high school faltered when city could not come to an agreement with a previous company.
The mayor said he'd first begun considering solar when looking into the requirements to get the transfer station property permitted early in his administration. He credited Assessor Ross Vivori with taking the lead on the project with the aid of Administrative Officer Michael Canales, Chief Procurement Officer Laura Wood, Community Development Director Michael Nuvallie and Commissioner of Public Services Timothy Lescarbeau.
"I cannot say thank you enough," he said. "This project is truly your baby."
The array offsets about 2,989 tons of carbon annually, or the equivalent of 630 cars, according to information supplied at the Tuesday's event. The city will buy power at a low, set cost through a 20-year power purchase agreement with Syncarpha Capital. Borrego Solar is paying a $12,000 a year lease for the installation, which covers 14 of the capped landfill's 24 acres.
Dan Burgess, deputy commissioner of the state's Department of Energy Resources, noted the expansion of solar energy over the past decade and the state's 4th place ranking nationwide - despite the fact it often has less sun and less suitable land than states to the west and south.
"Less than a decade ago, we had 3 megawatts of solar, today we are up to over 900 megawatts of solar and we're getting even closer to having one gigawatt of solar," Burgess said. "Which is just incredible and is putting us close to our 1,600 megawatt goal that we have. ...
"We are making really strong use of sites like this to build renewable energy and I think that's a testament to local leadership and leadership at the state level."
With roughly some 30,000 installations of all sizes throughout the state, it's getting harder for state Sen. Benjamin B. Downing, D-Pittsfield, to stop and take pictures of all them.
Downing, a strong supporter of alternative energy, said the installations encouraged by Legislature's and former Gov. Deval Patrick's initial energy policies are providing alternatives to the state's few centralized, fossil fuel-based, generation facilities.
"We came together around simple goals: reduce the amount we use, be smarter about what we use and change what we use, " he said. "And right around you, you see that change."
A number of proposed arrays have been in a holding pattern after hitting the state's net-metering cap. The mayor credited National Grid's President Marcy Reed and local community manager Joanne DeRose for keeping the North Adams array "in the queue" after its initial delay.
Downing's amendment to double the cap passed in the Senate's climate change bill in July; that now goes to the House. He and Burgess are hopeful those measures produced in the Senate and filed by Gov. Charlie Baker will keep the state in the forefront of clean energy production and jobs.
"We can change the program," Downing said. "The incentives that take you from 2 megawatts to 900 megawatts ... aren't that different.
"You need to think about how you build a market that's self-sustaining over time, that doesn't require those stops and starts. I give the governor a great deal of credit for listening to folks, for making a fact-driven decision and for really engaging."
Baker has been supportive but cautious about incentives that could cost ratepayers.
"I think the governor filed a solar bill that addresses the short-term issues and provides an opportunity for long-term reform that will allow solar to continue to thrive," said Burgess. "We're looking forward to working with the Legislature on the issue and I think there's really opportunity there."
The North Adams array has been partially online for months and will soon be up to full capacity. Using a pair of gold-painted hedge clippers, the mayor cut an electrical cord attached on one end to a painted barrel of "oil" supplied by the city yard to officially open the sea of panels.
"It's a testament to our past in a way, that those who first came here utilized our rivers to generate power," said the mayor, noting the wind turbines on the mountain beyond. "And now this city and the region have come full circle in the utilization of sun and the wind behind us."
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