Still a ray of hope for Lenox solar project


LENOX -- The lights have gone out on the current municipal solar energy project, but the plug is definitely not pulled for a new one, local officials emphasized last week.

Ever since the Boston-based Broad-
way Renewable Strategies contracting firm closed in February because of economic difficulties, alternate developers had been approached by Lenox and Lee officials to salvage both towns’ projects.

But those efforts failed. Lenox Town Manager Christopher Ketchen exp-
lained that leading contender RGS Energy, a national solar-energy supplier based in Louisville, Colo., informed him on Tuesday that the company could not take over the Lenox solar project because of its cost and a state-required completion deadline just a few weeks away.

The state had set the June 30 deadline for completion of current projects to qualify for this year’s round of money-saving energy credits.

"Is it disappointing? Yes," said Ketchen. "Is it a surprise? Not really. It’s one door that’s closed but we’ve got multiple oars in the water in the renewable realm and under the broader umbrella of sustainability."

As a Green Community, Lenox remains strongly committed to solar energy, he stressed, once a new developer is identified and the state unveils phase two of its solar renewable energy credits program to take effect next year.

The town is examining several options, including a new request for proposals from developers and a possible power-purchasing agreement with other communities that have launched their own solar projects, the town manager said.

"We’ve learned a lot by going through the process, and a year from now, we may say that it’s great, we’ve got this deal as opposed to the one we may have gone into," Ketchen commented. "There are plenty of reasons for optimism, moving forward."

The town did not take a financial hit from the demise of the current project, he noted, since the initial costs were funded up front by Broadway and by a grant.

"The taxpayers haven’t absor-
bed any costs," said Ketchen.

"We’re not just looking at a renewable project," he exp-
lained -- as an advocate of energy conservation, "my personal opinion is that the cleanest kilowatt is the one that’s never used. Lenox is looking to advance on multiple fronts."

The two local solar project sites approved by Town Meeting voters in 2012 are at the town’s wastewater treatment plant and, pending environmental studies, at its former landfill, both in Lenox Dale. Whether a new authorization from voters at a special town meeting is necessary remains to be determined, Ketchen said.

"A number of solar firms have already expressed interest in developing our two sites," Selectman Channing Gibson told The Eagle.

The projected cost of the solar installation at the Lenox wastewater treatment plant had been $5.7 million. The site would have produced nearly 1.2 million kilowatt hours annually, at a savings to taxpayers of about $355,000 over the next 20 years. The former landfill site’s estimated cost has been put at about $10 million.

Gibson and Selectman Ken-
neth Fowler expressed the hope that Lenox and Lee could continue to pursue a financially-advantageous collaboration on solar installations.

At Wednesday night’s Select Board meeting, he suggested that Lenox will be better off with a new solar developer "rather than getting into a situation with a company that doesn’t have the ability to deliver and then getting down the road with a half-started project."

"We might have dodged a big bullet there," said Select Board Chairman David Roche.

To contact Clarence Fanto:
or (413) 637-2551.
On Twitter: @BE_cfanto


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