Stockbridge Select Board approves special permit for 900 kW array at closed landfill


STOCKBRIDGE — It was a banner week for municipal solar projects in the tri-town area.

The alternative energy developer Ameresco, based in Framingham, won a special permit from the Stockbridge Select Board on Wednesday for a 900-kilowatt array at the closed town landfill on Glendale Middle Road in a relatively secluded part of town.

And earlier this week, the Lenox Select Board approved a similar agreement with Ameresco for a solar installation on the closed landfill in Lenox Dale, while a joint solar project with Lee at a former landfill on private industrial property in that town will produce energy savings for both communities.

The Stockbridge installation, which will connect to National Grid, is expected to save the town $750,000 to $1 million over the 20-year life of the lease agreement, plus tax benefits.

Once it goes into service, the additional electricity will supply power to any or all municipal buildings and other facilities, as well as streetlights, Selectman Stephen Shatz said.

The official deadline to take advantage of current net metering caps for renewable energy projects that create maximum economic benefits for the town is Jan. 8, 2017.

Construction of the project has to be completed by then, said Beth Greenblatt, managing director of Beacon Integrated Solutions. "It's a very important date," she said.

Greenblatt, who attended the Select Board's public hearing, has been the consultant on the deal for Stockbridge, as she has for similar solar agreements in Lenox, Lee, Pittsfield and Williamstown.

"Beth's assistance in this project has been invaluable, and we would not be here today but for her," Shatz said at Wednesday evening's meeting. "I've never worked with an outside consultant who has done what you have done."

"We've been working on this for over a year," said Select Board Chairman Charles Gillett. "I'm very excited that it's finally going to happen."

Detailing the project, Joel Lindsay, director of project development for Ameresco, said the array of about 3,000 solar panels is mounted on steel racks facing south, supported on cement blocks used to anchor the system without penetrating the cap on the landfill.

"That's a key element the DEP [Department of Environmental Protection] requires on all these closed landfills," he said.

"We're able to do this without having to cause a lot of disturbance on the landfills," Lindsay said. "A lot of them now look like grassy meadows. We're really able to maintain that once we're done."

A similar, though much larger, solar array is being installed on a former Pittsfield landfill in Downing Industrial Park off Hubbard Avenue.

The solar power generated in Stockbridge will be connected to National Grid lines near the landfill under a 20-year lease agreement between the town and Ameresco. The agreement with National Grid is in progress as the utility studies the impact of the project, according to Lindsay.

The energy from the array goes directly into the utility's distribution lines and is measured by Ameresco and National Grid meters.

As explained by Lindsay, the town pays Ameresco based on kilowatt-hour consumption, with savings achieved by the difference between the cost of what the town buys from the company and the credit it gets from National Grid.

"That difference is several cents per kilowatt hour higher than what you're paying us," he told the Selectmen. Annual savings to the town are projected at $70,000 at the outset, with the benefit declining slightly in later years.

Credits assigned to meters designated by the town are valued currently at about 16.5 cents per kilowatt hour, Greenblatt said, based on the 10.49 cents per hour billed to the town by Ameresco, rising 2 percent per year.

As is common with such projects, the company guarantees the town that it will pay for removing the installation after 20 years, though the town could extend the contract for five years if the system is still working well, or buy the installation from Ameresco in 2037 at "fair market value." That amount would be "pretty low," Greenblatt noted.

The panels are guaranteed by the manufacturer to produce at least 80 percent of the maximum solar power through the 25th year.

Greenblatt acknowledged months of uncertainty until April 11, when Gov. Charlie Baker signed a compromise bill reached by the state Legislature to significantly increase financial incentives for solar energy projects by extending net metering caps.

"Ameresco jumped into this pool of uncertainty with you," she told the Selectmen, as the company agreed to fast-track the project for completion by the end of this year after the town accepted its bid for the installation.

Shatz acknowledged the project still requires permitting from the state DEP and the town's Conservation Commission because of tree removal in the buffer area surrounding the landfill site. The interconnection agreement with National Grid also awaits final action.

Following the discussion, the Select Board unanimously approved the special permit and four waivers for exemptions from the 200-foot property setbacks in the zoning bylaw; the requirement that all utility lines be underground; the requirement for a traffic study since the area is secluded, and elimination of a modest filing fee.

Contact Clarence Fanto at 413-637-2551.


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