Friday, October 31, 2014

Pittsfield Solar Array Gets Re-Energized

PITTSFIELD -- Pittsfield wants to re-energize plans for a solar power installation at its former landfill with the goal of generating big savings on future municipal electric bills.

The Department of Community Development is seeking offers from qualified solar energy firms to place thousands of panels at the landfill at the end of Downing Parkway.

As of last week, more than 30 solar installers from as far away as California have shown interest in the project, according to city officials.

"Our requirements include bringing money to the table for investment and the company's ability to build [the solar array]," said James McGrath, city parks and open space manager. "Pittsfield must come out on top or we won't do it."

The potential savings of the revived municipal solar project has yet to be calculated, but McGrath anticipates "the savings to the city will be substantial."

In 2010, Missouri-based SunEdison backed away as the chosen firm to build a $10 million, 8,000-panel project atop the capped landfill that was expected to shave an estimated $2 million off the city's Western Massachusetts Electric Co. bills over a 20-year period. City officials believe SunEdison felt the return on their investment wasn't worth installing the 2-megawatt facility.

Project consultant Beth Greenblatt, managing director of Beacon Integrated Services, doubts Pittsfield will get jilted again.

"The solar market is hotter now than four years ago and not a lot of companies had experience with landfills," she said.

Greenblatt is also advising Lee and Lenox on their municipal solar projects, likely to involve their respective capped landfills. All three communities are using state grants to pay for her consulting services.

Originally, the City Council endorsed a solar array installation at the landfill that also received the required approval from the state Department of Environmental Protection. McGrath noted the initial DEP permit issued is still valid, but may need to be updated. WMECo. also must formally accept the electricity produced at the installation.

The city would lease several acres of the 44-acre landfill to the solar developer and in turn, Pittsfield would buy the electricity produced at the site through the company.

The savings come in the form of net metering, credit from the utility for unused electricity generated by the solar panels and Solar Renewable Energy Certificates. Massachusetts allows SREC production of electricity for up to 10 years in an effort to reach the state's goal to create 1,600 megawatts of solar capacity by 2020. As of last month, 615 megawatts was achieved, capable of powering nearly 94,000 homes.


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