LEE -- Town Meeting has endorsed a solar energy project that could eliminate the need for replacement soccer fields on Stockbridge Road.
By a nearly 2-1 margin, Town Meeting representatives approved four articles on the 52-article warrant that would allow a Boston firm to spend $11.8 million for the installation of solar panels on three town-owned parcels of land.
The vote Thursday night came about halfway through the six-hour session that wrapped up by 1:30 a.m. on Friday -- the longest annual town meeting in almost 15 years, according to town officials.
The solar project could result in a $65,000 savings the first year and $1.57 million for the life of the town's pending 20-year agreement with Broadway Electric to buy electricity generated by its solar arrays, according to the Lee Energy Efficiency Committee.
Meanwhile, the annual gathering on Thursday night supported a $20.2 million budget that takes effect July 1.
The fiscal 2013 spending plan is $459,000 above the current $19.8 million budget. The spending hike could result in a $91 increase on the average tax bill for a single-family home, when the town sets the tax rate for fiscal 2013 in December, according to town officials.
The solar project calls for Broadway to install panels on three town parcels: At the old landfill, in front of the wastewater treatment facility on Route 102, and on three acres of a 171-acre site off Stockbridge Road.
The Stockbridge Road location generated the most controversy because it includes creating three youth soccer fields to replace the ones being displaced by the solar array at the sewer plant.
Town meeting agreed to allow the Selectmen the flexibility to alter the plan, with one possible option to double up on the solar panels at the Stockbridge Road site and keep the soccer fields at the sewer facility.
Another suggestion from several residents called for using the three town parcels for the project, but upgrade existing ball fields in town to allow for youth soccer.
"[Playing fields] should be a separate issue and not mixed in with the solar," said Cornelia Kalischer, a town meeting representative.
However, Town Meeting representative John Coty felt the project was fine, as is.
"This project will benefit the town greatly and I don't see anything wrong with putting in playing fields for our youth," Coty said. "We have substantial amount of town-owned land, and it's about time we take advantage of it."
Town meeting also agreed to a $4,250 local contribution toward a $100,000 feasibility study of having wind turbines generate electricity near the town's upper reservoir. A state grant will pay for the bulk of the study.
Representative approved 20 of the 22 other special spending articles that included:
→ Borrowing $317,000 to clean and paint the South Lee water storage tank.
→ Set aside $150,000 each toward the purchase of a new fire truck and a front loader for the Department of Public Works.
The expenditures defeated were:
→ $25,000 for the former courtroom at Town Hall, and
→ $9,000 for the planning and promotion of events by the Lee Cultural Council.