LENOX — After five years of setbacks and disappointments, the town's long-awaited solar project on the former landfill in Lenox Dale is finally set to begin construction this summer.
The Select Board signed a contract on Monday with Ameresco, a leading international alternative energy company based in Framingham.
On a six-month construction timetable, Ameresco has leased town-owned property to build a solar-panel array capable of producing up to 801 kilowatts annually.
It is scheduled to go on line by the end of this year in order to reap federal tax benefits that expire Dec. 31.
The lease runs for 20 years and is projected to save the town potentially hundreds of thousands of dollars in electricity costs during that time, perhaps close to $1 million, beginning with an estimated $51,000 in reductions in 2017.
Lenox will be paying 12.9 cents per kilowatt hour for the solar-generated power, which will be connected to National Grid.
While the installation would yield a substantial amount of the electricity needed for municipal installations, the greatest significance of the project is the company's requirement to pay for the capping of the Willow Creek Road landfill closed in the 1970s, said Town Manager Christopher Ketchen.
The state Department of Environmental Protection is seeking compliance with current landfill capping requirements to avoid future contamination at the former site. The DEP will be briefed on the project during a conference call this Friday, said Jeffrey Grandchamp, the town's Special Counsel who prepared the lease agreement between the town and Ameresco.
The project "provides good economic benefits for the town, not only bringing your landfill into compliance but also turning a cost center into a profit center," said Beth Greenblatt, solar energy consultant for Lenox, Lee, Pittsfield, Stockbridge and Williamstown.
"The ability to wake up 20 years from now and feel comfortable that the landfill is properly capped and fenced in overrides any economic benefit," Ketchen said. "The economic benefit is just the cherry on top."
He called the deal "very effective as far as the town's values are concerned. It holds the town's taxpayers harmless while remediating a problem that should have been fixed years ago."
Grandchamp noted that under the contract, Ameresco guarantees to provide at least 80 percent of the solar installation's generating capacity each year.
"If they shut the deal down or it's not working properly, there will be damages they'll have to pay if it's a cloudy year or there's a lot of snowfall," he said.
"It turns an environmental liability into an environmental asset for the town," Grandchamp said.
He also pointed out that Ameresco is required to set funds aside to cover the estimated $100,000 cost of removing the solar facility in 20 years, leaving the site and the landfill cap in good condition. "They can't walk away; they have to remove it," he said.
Selectman Kenneth Fowler, a renewable energy advocate, touted the project as in harmony with the town's commitment as a Green Community.
"Obviously, we're supposed to save money, that's the whole idea," he added.
The initial effort to place a solar installation at the former landfill site fell apart when the original developer, Broadway Renewable Strategies, went out of business in early 2014, much to the dismay of town officials. Voters approved the project at the 2012 annual town meeting.
During Monday's Select Board meeting, Greenblatt told members by conference call that a gated, limited-access road for town-owned Post Farm, a recreational area, would be open for municipal vehicles involved in mowing and other maintenance.
For public access by vehicles, Selectman David Roche suggested an alternative access road could be used at the bottom of Bentrup Court, off East Street.
Grandchamp said that final permits for the project remain to be issued by the Lenox Conservation Commission, the Board of Assessors and the Zoning Board of Appeals.
Voting 3-0, with two members not present, the Select Board approved the lease agreement and the solar power purchase agreement between the town and Lenox Willow Creek Solar, LLC, a subsidiary of Ameresco. The company also is building solar installations on former landfills in Pittsfield and Northampton, Grandchamp said.
In a separate project, Lenox will reap 20 percent of the savings from a joint 2.6-megawatt Greenwood Energy solar array project with Lee at a former landfill owned by Schweitzer-Mauduit International. Pending final building permit approval in Lee, construction is likely to begin by May 1 on a six-month timetable.
The power generated by the installation would connect with Eversource, which serves all of Lee and the Lenox Dale area, including the Lenox waste-water treatment plant on Crystal Street.
Contact Clarence Fanto at 413-637-2551.