Pittsfield to Host Biggest Solar-Facility in New England
The solar-facility planned for Pittsfield will be the biggest in New England so far.
The facility could generate enough energy to power nearly 2,000 homes and is a "win-win" for the city, said Mayor James M. Ruberto.
"Integrating renewable energy projects with the redevelopment of these brownfield properties is a win-win for our city and a valuable contribution toward the commonwealth's energy and environmental objectives," said the mayor in a statement.
The utility will install a field of solar panels on six acres it owns on Silver Lake Boulevard and an adjacent two acres that is part of the Pittsfield Economic Development Authority's William Stanley Business Park. The lots straddle a WMECo substation that will provide a connection to the electrical grid.
The $10 million project positions WMECo and the region as leaders in the development of renewable energy sources.
"Solar-energy facilities like these will provide the platform necessary to demonstrate that solar can play a viable role in meeting the renewable energy needs of the commonwealth while contributing to the economic
development of the region," said Peter Clarke, WMECo president and chief operating officer, in a statement.
The utility's venture into solar investment is part of the Green Communities Act, a state initiative to encourage the development of renewable resources and energy efficiency and conservation.
"The Green Communities Act was built on two principles: energy efficiency and clean energy," said state Sen. Benjamin B. Downing, D-Pittsfield, a strong proponent of the measure. "This project is one of many solar installs in Western Mass that will put people to work, begin to secure our energy independence, and address climate change."
The solar field, on a far corner of the brownfields-turned-business park, fits well with the park and is expected to draw interest in both what former the GE site and the city can offer existing businesses and startups, said David Rooney, president of the Berkshire Economic Development Corp. Rooney said the BEDC worked closely with the city and PEDA over the past year to secure the project for Pittsfield.
WMECo is the first utility to receive approval from the state Department of Public Utilities to develop large-scale solar generation, part of a settlement agreement reached last summer with attorney general's office and other key stakeholders.
The state has a goal to install 250 megawatts of solar by 2017. Under the landmark Green Communities Act, each Massachusetts electric utility may own up to 50 MW of solar generation, subject to approval by the DPU. WMECo is authorized for 6 MW and is currently evaluating 25 municipal and privately owned sites within its service area for further construction of facilities of at least 1 MW over the next two years.
Rooney said the BEDC will continue working with the utility in finding suitable sites in the county. The company is focusing on land with few alternative purposes, such as landfills and brownfields, as well as its own parcels.
"This was a site that we could move on immediately because we owned a large part of it," said WMECO spokesowman Sandra Ahearn of the Silver Lake Boulevard location. "It's representative of the kind of sites were looking at for use and it allows us to move foward."
The company expects to break ground in this spring and have the installation completed by fall, she said. It has qualified 16 solar firms for bidding on its projects. As the first, the Pittsfield location will provide a model for future developments, said Ahearn.
PEDA Executive Director William M. Hines Sr. said the utility is purchasing a permanent easement on the two acres. The lot is the 52-acre business park's last spot on Silver Lake Boulevard and was problematic in marketing because of upcoming remediation work along the former GE property.
"When GE starts the remediation for Silver Lake, that road will be blocked off for a period of time. This turned out to be the perfect solution for us," said Hines. "It's a positive development for the site and it's a nice tax generator for the city."
He said the authority is looking into tax credits or other initiatives that could be available to PEDA or for businesses seeking to locate at the Stanley Business Park because of the solar array.
The utility will pay an estimated $200,000 in property taxes annually. WMECo has some 24,000 customers in Pittsfield, one of two Gateway Communities in its service area.
"I think it's pretty exciting," said Rooney. "Once this project gets moving forward this will increase interest in this site."