The state has allowed every utility company to own and operate up to 35 megawatts. Eversource's two subsidiaries — Western Mass Electric Co. and NStar — each can own 35 megawatts, giving the company a total of 70. Eight of those 70 are already in operation and these two projects are part of more than a dozen proposed across the state to reach that goal.
Eversource had already received approval for its project in Pittsfield, on Partridge Road, and on Monday Lanesborough's Planning Board approved the project there.
Lanesborough's conditions were that an egress is placed on the other end of the access road and that the Conservation Commission be allowed to inspect the site two times in the first year to ensure water runoff systems are working and make subsequent visits in the future if needed. Pittsfield also required a follow up on the stormwater conditions.
Eversource's Senior Environmental Specialist Amy Voisine-Shea said the Lanesborough project includes installing 15,450 solar panels spanning 23 acres. The company owns more than 80 acres on the eastern portion of Route 7 — the land around the electrical transmission lines. The ground-mounted panels will stand about six feet high and be surrounded by an 8-foot fence.
"It is going to be pushed back off the road quite a bit," Voisine-Shea said.
Voisine-Shea said construction is expected to start in the spring and be completed by the fall — a four- to five-month timeline. The project is estimated to be $10 million of value, which would add somewhere around $200,000 per year into the town's coffers.
"It would be very important to the town especially with the high school and those bills," Town Manager Paul Sieloff said.
The tax value assumes a depreciation of 4 percent, however, Voisine-Shea said any time a piece of equipment is replace the value basically gets reset.
"In 10 years, there could be a panel or technology that is better and we'd replace all of them," she said, adding that the life expectancy of the panels is 25 years.
If it does come to a time for decommissioning, she said the company would restore the land to the way it is currently.
"If there is a place in town for it, this is it," said Planning Board member Jeff DeChaine.
DeChaine is also the assistant fire chief so he raised concerns about access. He said if there was a fire incident there, he wouldn't feel safe being fenced in with only one way out. He pushed for some type of gate at the top of the proposed access road in case emergency responders need to get in and out of the fenced in area.
"The fire department would also like to have access to that," DeChaine said. "We are responsible for forest fire and we are responsible for protecting your assets, so just being able to get in and out if somebody gets hurt it would be nice to have a second way out."
The Planning Board also conditioned the project to allow members of the Conservation Commission access to the property in the Spring and Fall in the first year of operation. The company avoided all wetlands in crafting the proposal but the project does require a large stormwater management system. The Conservation Commission will ask to visit the site to ensure the water runoff is being managed properly.
"I think a year is good and perhaps after the next storm season make sure it is all still in tact," DeChaine said
The two projects — Pittsfield and Lanesborough — together add up 7.4 MW of solar power. The company already owns and operates 1.8 MW along Silver Lake in Pittsfield — which was the largest in New England when it was first constructed by projects have been getting larger and larger since then.
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