Our Opinion: Solar energy pays real dividends

Solar energy must become an increasingly large component of the Massachusetts energy picture and it has been satisfying to see Berkshire County play an important role in its growth over the past few years. An ambitious solar project at Pittsfield Municipal Airport has the potential to significantly increase that role.

The Airport Commission last week unanimously approved leasing about 26 acres of its roughly 600 acres of land to Oak Leaf Energy Partners for a 6MW facility that the Denver-based company says will be one of the largest airport solar projects in Massachusetts (Eagle, May 13). The project must be approved by the Federal Aviation Administration, which has signed off informally, according to Commission Chairman Christopher J. Pedersen.

The immediate benefit of the large-scale solar array is the likelihood it will enable the airport to be financially independent of the city. Beyond that, a power-purchase agreement with Oak Leaf has the potential to generate $10 million in energy credits for the airport and the city over the 20-year lease agreement. This will help address the concerns of Pittsfield city councilors that the airport has not been generating enough money for the city.

In Lanesborough, the Select Board has backed the recommendation of the town's energy committee that Ameresco, a Framingham-based alternative energy firm, be hired to install a solar array on dormant land north of town hall (Eagle, May 13). The project should generate tax revenue and revenue through the sale of energy depending on the specifics of a contract that Lanesborough must still reach with Ameresco.

While the large Pittsfield airport project drew eight bidders, Ameresco was the only one for the Lanesborough project. Other potential bidders may have been scared away by the interconnection fee with Eversource, which if higher than $150,000 would likely affect the company's payments to Lanesborough, according to the town's energy consultant, Beth Greenblatt. It is possible, according to Ms. Greenblatt, that Eversource's plan to install its own solar array project in town could provide system upgrades that result in a lower interconnection fee for Ameresco, but in general, Eversource, which is in the solar business, shouldn't be charging fees that are so high they discourage towns and solar companies from installing new arrays.

The Massachusetts Department of Energy Resources is in the process of developing a new solar stimulus program, and with Washington D.C., embracing the dying and polluting coal industry, Governor Baker's office and the state Legislature should boost the state solar industry through grants and tax credits. The fossil fuel industry has attempted to create roadblocks, most notably through its opposition to reform of a net metering formula that was hindering the development of new or expanded solar projects.

Solar produces jobs through state-based companies, it enables towns and cities to draw revenue through the sale of energy, and it is a clean energy source that doesn't further burden a polluted planet. Beacon Hill must stand firmly behind it.


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