Solar Power Partnership Wants to Expand Usage
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — The installation of a solar array at the landfill will heat up opportunities for residents, businesses and the city to take greater advantage of sun power.
Blue Wave Capital, with partners Consolidated Edison, installer Alteris Renewables and engineering firm Tighe & Bond, was selected by the city to install a 2 megawatt array at the landfill. The installation, one of the largest per capita in the state, is expected to generate between 25 and 30 percent of the city's power.
"This seems to be the perfect partnership," Mayor Richard Alcombright told the City Council on Tuesday. "I don't think we find a stronger financing partner than ConEd."
ConEd is financing the project and will lease the landfill and own the array, selling the power back to the city at a locked-in, lower rate over the next two decades. The city could have the option of buying the array after six years.
"Three out of every four years, electricity prices have gone up," said John DeVillars, manager of Blue Wave Capital, in presenting the project to the council. "It will be a very precise price ... it's a hedge against what every energy economist predicts will be substantial increases."
Alcombright and DeVillars said they were looking at other municipal locations, such as the airport, former wastewater plant and Drury High School, as possibilities for arrays.
DeVillars said once the municipal side was done, Blue Wave would work with the city in outreach to the community on solar use. Alteris Renewables, the region's largest solar panel installer, has a "zero down" program for residences and businesses. Working with SunRun, a provider of residential solar electricity, homeowners could apply for solar installations for minimal or even zero investment.
Further, DeVillars said for every five homeowners who sign on for a panel, the partnership would donate one for a community or municipal facility.
"This hasn't really been tried yet in the way we envision this," he said. "We hope we could use it as a community organizing tool."
For example, parishioners could band together to target a church or hall for solar; a neighborhood could select community center or city building.
In response to a question from Councilor Alan Marden, DeVillars said the installation would create short-term jobs as Alteris is committed to subcontracting with local companies to install the arrays.
DeVillars expected the array to be up and running by the end of the year to take advantage of state and federal tax incentives.
In other business:
• Discussed changes to a vendor bylaw were postponed until July 12. The issue was raised last summer but stalled in the General Government Committee.
"I don't think there's an easy answer to this; currently, what's in the books is working, there's some flexibility there," said committee Chairman Keith Bona. "We can still talk about it in General Government more ... .
The mayor suggested it be postponed to "see how things go through the Wilco weekend."
• An order on renaming a section of Summer Street for former resident and horticulturist Lue Gim Gong was filed at the motion of Councilor Michael Bloom. Bloom said there did not appear to be support on the council or in the community for the change but urged historian Paul Marino, who raised the idea, to work with the Historial Commission on a more appropriate memorial.
• The council adopted the state's anti-idling law at the behest of the Board of Health and on the recommendation of the Public Safety Committee. The "adoption" merely indicates support for the law, which is in effect statewide.
• Approved an economic development opportunity area for the North Adams Transcript site on American Legion Drive and minor changes suggested by MassDevelopment to the tax incentive financing agreement with Scarafoni Associates that will allow the property to be purchased and renovated for the Brien Center.
• Approved restructuring of bond debt.
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Going After the Green
The city, like many municipalities, is pursuing a Green Communities designation. Michael Rosenburg, superintendent of public buildings and lead in the North Adams Energy Efficiency Initiative updated the City Council on Tuesday on the criteria and the city's progress so far.
The process was begun some years ago, which residents may not be aware of, said Rosenburg.
"Not many people know this is going on," he said. "I've given presentations before and people have been surprised we're doing this but it's been going on behind the scenes."
The most notable green effort was renovation of the library, which included a photovoltaic system and geothermal pump. It became the first public library certified as LEED.
More recently, the high school and the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art have been awarded grants for photovoltaic systems; on the smaller side, some lights and trash cans are solar powered.
The city is also looking at uses for LED lights and a solar array at the landfill, and ways to reduce energy usage for its 45 buildings and 93 vehicles.
Rosenburg said his group met with National Grid and Berkshire Gas in January to discuss ways the city could find savings. National Grid is offering three free comprehensive energy audits that will be done at Drury High School, Brayton Elementary School and the water filtration facility. The newer schools were selected because a feasibility study will look at all the school buildings, the assumption being that significant work may be required to the older buildings.
A Green Communities Act requires the municipality to meet seven criteria, including setting an energy-use baseline from which to determine a reduction of 20 percent within five years. Rosenburg said 2009 — the worst year so far in energy use and the best documented — will likely set the baseline.
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