Eversource's proposed 3.3-megawatt solar array in Lee up for public review

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LEE — A major electricity supplier to the Berkshires plans to build a 3.3-megawatt solar plant near the Massachusetts Turnpike to further boost its green energy capacity in order to save its customers money.

Eversource wants to install ground-mounted solar panels on half of its nearly 26-acre tract of land on the southerly side of the MassPike, just east of Exit 2.

If approved by the town, construction would begin this spring and be completed by the end of 2017, according to company officials.

The Lee Planning Board will publicly review the project Monday, 6 p.m. at Lee Memorial Town Hall.

The solar array would help double Eversource's current solar power wattage in Western Massachusetts from 8 megawatts to 16, as Lanesborough recently approved a 5.2-megawatt solar plant on company property off that town's North Main Street. Eversource already has a solar facility operating in Pittsfield's Williams Stanley Business Park and two in Springfield.

The utility is also seeking a second Pittsfield facility, a 2.2-megawatt array on land it owns at 327 Partridge Road, while exploring whether to build one in Hancock.

The electricity from these and future solar project would be fed directly into the power grid.

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"The net proceeds we receive from the sale of the energy will be going back to our customers," Eversource wrote in an email to The Eagle. "Customers will also receive the proceeds from Solar Renewable Energy Credits (SRECs) as well as federal investment tax credits used to offset customer rates."

Eversource ramping up its solar energy program comes on the heels of the Massachusetts Legislature last summer approving an energy bill allowing utilities to maintain up to 70 megawatts of solar power.

"We anticipate we can produce solar energy at about 18 cents a kilowatt hour, compared to upwards of 50 cents per kilowatt hour for power produced at some existing solar facilities in the commonwealth," company officials stated.

While host communities generally accept the concept of commercial solar plants, the visual and potential environmental impact are concerns of neighbors to such projects.

Eversource and town officials doubt that will be the case with the Lee facility that has few abutters off Water Street (Route 20) that runs parallel to the MassPike.

"The project will be mostly facing the turnpike, it's very well hidden," said Lee Select Board Chairman Thomas Wickham who also chairs the town's Energy Efficiency Committee.

Several homeowners living near Lee's municipal solar array along Willow Hill Road fought to have the project redesigned and increase screening to shield the solar panels from the residences backyards. The 2.6-megawatt facility to serve Lee and part of Lenox is expected to come on line later this month.

Contact staff writer Dick Lindsay at 413-496-6233


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