PITTSFIELD -- The demonstration effect provided by solar energy installations like the one at the city's wastewater treatment plant will spur limitless green energy growth in the commonwealth, state Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner David W. Cash said during a stop in Pittsfield on Friday.
The visit was part of a six-stop tour of solar facilities across the state called the "Summer Solstice Solar Tour."
The tour began at sun-up in Chatham at 5:07 a.m. and ended in Pittsfield at the wastewater treatment plant off Holmes Road at 8:24 p.m., sunset. Other stops included facilities in Barnstable, Pembroke, Worcester and Easthampton.
"We think [solar energy] is going to continue to explode, because as other municipalities look to Pittsfield, or look to Easthampton, they're going to say, ‘Wait, we want to do that. Let's use [unproductive space]; let's make money from it; let's reduce emissions with it,' " Cash said. "This whole package comes together in a very powerful way."
Constructed in late 2010, the city's facility produces 1.574 megawatts of power and was expected to knock $2 million off Pittsfield's electric bill over 20 years.
Cash dubbed the array "one of the flagships of how the green energy revolution is happening in the commonwealth" and praised Pittsfield for getting on board early.
So did State Department of Energy Resources Commissioner Mark Sylvia, who called the city "a real leader for a number of years."
"It's really what happens at the local level that gets things done," Sylvia said. "Good energy policy, good environmental protection strategies and economic development are not mutually exclusive; they actually work hand in hand. This project is a very good example."
The message has apparently caught on. Sylvia pointed out that half the state's population lives within the 123 municipalities that have achieved a "green communities" distinction, and solar energy generation has grown from three megawatts in 2007 to 518 megawatts today, enough to power 79,000 homes. Gov. Deval Patrick has set the goal of reaching 1,600 megawatts by 2020.
"It's remarkable what's been going on all over the state," Cash said. "We could only visit six today, but there are thousands and thousands of new [photovoltaic] facilities on businesses, on municipal buildings, on schools and colleges."
State Sen. Benjamin Downing, D-Pittsfield, said such installations employ local and regional workers and furthermore save the city money, allowing for the protection of its own employees and taxpayers.
"We've taken control of our energy future in a way that preserves and protects the quality of life and the natural beauty and environmental significance of this region," Downing said.
Other states that were "twiddling their thumbs" on energy issues will look to Massachusetts "on how to do this right" in the future," Downing added.
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