Pittsfield Rye Bakery cooks up savings with solar array

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Photo Gallery | Pittsfield Rye Bakery Solar Panels

PITTSFIELD - Some companies dabble in solar energy, but Pittsfield Rye Bakery has embraced the environmentally friendly technology in a major way.

The company is putting the finishing touches on a massive 540-kilowatt commercial solar array located on 3 1/2 acres at the bakery's facility at 1010 South St., which is behind and above Guido's Fresh Marketplace.

The array, which goes online this week, contains 2,368 solar watt solar panels, each containing 270 watts, that are mounted on the ground, and will generate a minimum of 636,111 kilowatt hours of electricity.

The complex will generate 98 percent of Pittsfield Rye Bakery's total energy, according to Alexander S. Lieb, the CEO of US Light Energy of Latham, N.Y., which owns and installed the array.

It will reduce Pittsfield Rye's carbon footprint by nearly 566,288 pounds on an annual basis, and can generate enough power for 85 homes.

It is expected to be the largest privately owned and operated solar array targeted to one specific commercial customer in the Western Massachusetts Electric Co.'s territory, Lieb said.

Pittsfield Rye Bakery's complex is roughly a third of the size of WMECo's eight-acre Silver Lake solar energy facility at the William Stanley Business Park of the Berkshires in Pittsfield, which was the largest solar complex in New England when it opened in 2010.

Rick Robbins, who co-owns Pittsfield Rye Bakery with his wife, Renee, said energy efficiency and a desire to protect the environment led him to go all-in with solar power. The cost also made the project worthwhile.

"About five years ago Renee and I had talked to a solar company or two and they basically wanted three quarters of a million dollars and said it would take 30 years to get a return on our investment," Robbins said.

"I don't know anybody who has that much money, and if they did have that much money they wouldn't wait 30 years for a return."

Under his current setup, Robbins purchases his energy directly from US Light Energy, not a utility, and those costs are spread out over 20 years through a power-purchasing agreement that he signed with the company. US Light Energy's rate is also less expensive than WMECo's.

US Light Energy owns the equipment installed in the $1.9 million solar array, and offsets those costs through the state and federal subsidies that alternative energy companies receive for converting businesses to these types of technologies. Hill Engineering of Dalton helped with the installation.

Having the facility located on site also means that Pittsfield Rye Bakery is not subject to the steep jumps in delivery rates that utilities often pass on to their customers, like the 29 percent utility rate increase WMECo's customers will experience after Jan. 1.

"If he were going to take the array and put it down the street on a piece of land he would actually have to use the grid to bring the energy in so he'd be paying delivery," said US Light Energy's sales director Marcia Murray. "So the beauty of having it on site is you don't have to worry."

Photovoltaic cells generate electrical power by converting energy from the sun into electricity through solar cells, which reduces the need to obtain electrical power from the electric grid. At Pittsfield Rye Bakery, Robbins will be able to use the energy generated by the solar cells for air conditioning, lighting, and other needs that the bakery requires.

Robbins said savings he receives by converting to solar power will help him offset "the costs of doing business" like the annual increases in his property tax rate.

Lieb said the government subsides available for the installation of solar power facilities haven't changed in the last five years, but some of the equipment costs have dropped, and the financial models have changed.

Lieb owns US Light Energy with his son Chancellor, who is the company's vice president of technology. The company was founded in New York's Capital Region in 2009, but this is the first project US Light Energy has done in Massachusetts. The company is considering opening an office in Pittsfield.

Contact Tony Dobrowolski at 413-496-6224.


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