Alan Zerbato runs a daily check at the Lee wastewater treatment plant. Solar panels planned will power the plant and are expected to be a big money-saver
Alan Zerbato runs a daily check at the Lee wastewater treatment plant. Solar panels planned will power the plant and are expected to be a big money-saver for the town. ( Holly Pelczynski / Berkshire Eagle Staff )

LEE -- After nearly 18 months of negotiations, town officials and a developer have agreed on a solar energy project that could save taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars once fully operational.

The Lee Board of Selectmen and Broadway Electrical recently signed a 20-year deal giving the Boston-based firm permission to install three solar arrays on town-owned property that will produce 2.25 megawatts of electricity.

"It's worth the wait we went through," said board Chairman Gordon Bailey. "Now we can capture the best reimbursement rates and solar credits we can."

"Finally everything is set and hopefully we'll start construction next spring," added Thomas Wickham, chairman of Lee's Energy Efficiency Committee.

The Annual Town Meeting in May 2012 approved the project, but the agreement at times got bogged down while Broadway worked out the details with Western Massachusetts Electric Co. to have two of the three solar arrays hooked up to the WMECO system.

Broadway officials have said construction would begin at the old town landfill with the solar panels erected on 4.5 acres of a 171-acre parcel off Stockbridge Road. Those solar energy systems would be wired into the power grid.

The third phase of the project involves installing solar panels in front of the wastewater treatment plant on Route 102, with the electricity produced fed directly to the facility. The youth soccer fields being displaced by the sewer plant array will be replicated at the Stockbridge Road site at the expense of the developer.

"We're hoping to receive $45,000 to $50,000 in solar credits toward our electric bill, but we're sure we can attain at least $30,000 each year," Wickham said.

In addition, town officials say Broadway will pay an annual flat tax of $30,000 to operate the three solar arrays, which the town has the option to buy once the 20-year agreement expires.

Broadway plans to spend $ 11.8 million to construct, own and maintain the three solar arrays expected to power all of Lee's municipal buildings. The company will initially sell the electricity to the town at 7.8 cents per kilowatt hour, increasing at the annual rate of 2 percent to 10.8 cents during the 20-year period, according to Wickham.

Town officials are looking to reduce the $ 414,000 annual electric bill Lee pays to Western Massachusetts Electric Co. The two public schools and wastewater treatment plant account for two-thirds of those costs.

Broadway is the same firm looking to build a $15.7 million municipal solar energy project in Lenox.

To reach Dick Lindsay:
rlindsay@berkshireeagle.com,
or (413) 496-6233.