Adams solar farm construction expected to begin in December

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ADAMS >> Construction is expected to begin soon on a 1.3 megawatt solar farm off East Road as part of a subscription network that will allow customers to purchase clean energy at discounted rates.

The farm is owned by the Colorado-based Clean Energy Collective (CEC), which plans for a number of other solar farms around the state to bolster the number of subscribers it can serve. A 1.3 megawatt installation can serve roughly 260 residential customers who use about 5 kilowatts a year.

"We're trying to break down the barriers to access and affordability," said CEC spokesman Tim Braun. "About nine out of 10 people want renewable power but only about two out of 10 can use it."

The project calls for 5,200 solar panels, with a total annual capacity of 1.3 megawatts, to be installed on a 7-8 acre area within the 42-acre privately owned parcel of land. That was scaled back from the initial plan, proposed in September 2013, which envisioned 6,000 solar panels installed on about 10 acres, with a 1.5 megawatt capacity.

Braun said construction was likely will begin in December, with the installation expected to be operational in April 2015.

Initially designed and conceived by Apex Energy working with EOS Ventures, the project was sold to CEC once the permitting process was complete and a settlement was reached with the town addressing the concerns of some neighbors.

Braun noted that the company tried to be sensitive to neighborhood concerns by shrinking the size of the project and increasing the size of the vegetation buffer between the neighbors and the panels.

"We certainly understand people wanting to retain the character of their neighborhood, and the company has committed to addressing neighborhood concerns and the town will be sure they abide by the conditions that were imposed," said Donna Cesan, interim town administrator in Adams. "I think this company has been very diligent in trying to address those as best they could. It is a substantially reduced project now."

She said the town is likely to enter into an annual payment agreement in lieu of taxes with the company.

"Massachusetts is a leader in (the growth of renewable energy), and we certainly want to be a part of that in Adams and in the Berkshires," Cesan said. "People are generally embracing it."

Ed Driscoll, Adam's Town Meeting moderator and former member of the Select Board, was an outspoken opponent of the project last year, and part of a group of neighbors trying to challenge the legality of the permits.

In the end, he said, the group of neighbors didn't want to spend up to $80,000 in legal fees to fight the project.

Driscoll still contends the project was improperly permitted by the town and that the project will cause nearby property values to decline.

"They should not be allowed to be out there," he said.

The company is developing a new approach to providing clean energy, Braun said. Once the farm is operational, the energy it generates will be sold to subscribers to the service for no down payment and a 5 percent discount off the going rate of electricity in that area.

With this delivery system, no matter where the home is located, or even if it is a rental, folks can sign up for renewable power without any initial investment and still get it at a discount.

Anyone in Massachusetts, within the territory served by either National Grid or N Star, can sign up, Braun noted. But only a certain number of subscribers will be accepted because each solar installation produces a certain amount of power.

Entities such as municipalities or fire districts, also can subscribe and get a 5 percent discount on their power through the life of the contract, Braun noted.

"With solar, people are really starting to see the cost of renewable come down, while the other kind keeps going up," Braun said. "I think people are really catching on to that."

CEC has two other solar farms in development, with a capacity of 1 megawatt each, in Hadley and Rehoboth.

"Since our community-shared solar projects make the benefits of solar available to the more than 70 percent of homes and business who cannot put solar on their roofs, we are working to provide dozens more projects across the commonwealth in order to meet this growing demand," Braun said.

According to figures provided by CEC, the power generated by the solar installation in Adams will be the equivalent of offsetting more than 54 million pounds of CO2, planting 83,000 trees, or avoiding 61 million car miles.

"Residential, commercial and government consumers in Massachusetts made it clear that they want more locally made clean energy, but it must be accessible to everyone and make economic sense," said Tom Sweeney, CEC's chief operating officer. "Community solar serves these requirements and has effectively expanded solar adoption due to the fact that there is no limitation on participation. All that is required is that you receive an electric bill from the utility."

Contact Scott Stafford at 413-663-3741, ext. 227.


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